Several People Were Sexually Abused But Now, The University Wants To Pay Them

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Jon Vaughn leads the campaign

Jon Vaughn is a former football player of the University of Michigan’s NFL team. In any case, he has this to say. As indicated by him, he is one of in excess of 1,000 people – – – generally men, who say they were abused by athletics doctor Robert E. Anderson, who worked for the college from 1966 to 2003 treating students across sports including football, track, and wrestling.

Doctor Anderson, who died in 2008, subjected students, 90% of whom were men, to “sexually abusive conduct” and invasive exams, including unnecessary genital and rectal examinations, according to a 2021 independent report commissioned by the university. 

Many of Anderson’s victims were Black — and survivors say this has played a part in why the abuse was allowed to continue for decades.

In his roles at the university, including director of its health service, team physician for the athletic department and a clinical instructor at the university’s medical school, Anderson abused men and women from different racial backgrounds, undergraduate and graduate students, student athletes — including a two-time Super Bowl champion and former world-class wrestler — and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, the report found.

The university missed numerous opportunities to stop him over his 37 year long career, it concluded.

This month the university announced a $490 million settlement with over a thousand victims of Anderson’s alleged sexual abuse, pending approval by the Michigan Board of Regents and the claimants.

But despite the settlement, the University is still facing calls to take responsibility for its role in the abuse, which spanned more than three decades — as well as the university’s failures to address alleged present day sexual misconduct and abuse by and of students and university staff.

Victims say that despite knowledge of Dr. Anderson’s predatory behavior, U of M failed to take any action, and instead chose to continue enabling Dr. Anderson’s abuse of vulnerable young men until his voluntary retirement in 2003.

“They’ve shown that over the last half century… [they’re] uninterested in student safety as a priority,” Vaughn, who played for U of M from 1988 to 1990 said.

“They’ve shown the inability to police themselves on a consistent basis, as pertains to sexual assault,” he said.

Schlissel, who was fired this month from his position as President following an anonymous complaint suggesting that he “may have been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a University employee” — has apologized for Anderson’s “tragic misconduct,” and said in a statement that the university is committed to resolving victims’ claims.

But Vaughn, 51, who was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer and has been protesting for more than 100 days says he will continue to sleep outside the university president’s house until the University of Michigan addresses historic and alleged present day abuse, after realizing how “acute” issues of sexual assault, violence and rape are on campus.

Vaughn is also one of many involved in hundreds of individual lawsuits and a class-action lawsuits filed against the University and the Board of Regents by survivors.

The allegations against Anderson mirror those against disgraced USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar at Michigan State University and Richard Strauss at Ohio State University. They too were doctors who abused their trusted positions to sexually exploit college students and athletes. 

With more than a thousand people — mostly men — coming forward to say they were abused by Anderson, attorneys representing the victims say it may be the largest case of sex abuse by a single person in the US. The scale of the alleged abuse surpasses that at Michigan State, Ohio State, and similar incidents at other US universities. 

But the case has received nowhere near as much media coverage as that of the abuse of Nassar.

A disproportionate number of the victims are African American, Vaughn said.

“I don’t think the world right now is ready to complete that spectrum of the face of abuse and include African-American men,” Vaughn further expressed his pains. 

Attorney Mike Cox, who is representing 174 victims in confidential federal court mediation with the University of Michigan said, some 40% of the 1000 Anderson victims are African American men.

“We have not done a formal analysis because all are victims and viewed equally in that sense. But clearly the amount of African American victim survivors is much, much higher than their numbers in American society,” Cox told CNN over email.

Black Americans represent just 13.4% of the American population. The percentage of African American survivors is also “dramatically higher” than their percentages as part of the UM student base, Cox said.

The University of Michigan agreed to work toward a goal of 10% African American enrollment by 1973, but did not reach this goal: Black student enrollment had declined by 1987 to 5.3% of the student body from the high of 7.7% in 1976 and never reached the 10% goal targeted by administrators in the early ’70’s.

From the 1980s until 1996, there was a 10% increase in African American student enrollment. However, efforts to increase African American enrollment to reflect the Michigan state’s 14% Black population have been unsuccessful, according to the university.

Vaughn said it took years for him to even recognize what had happened to him as abuse, and that in communities of color, “for men to even discuss their abuse is seen as a weakness. In those communities, you’re forced to be tough and strong.” 

“We’ve been fighting to have a voice, just typically in this country, for over 400 years, we’re constantly and have historically been marginalized, or dehumanized in so many ways. So I really think those two factors create this perfect storm,” he said.

Attorney Parker Stinar, who represents around 200 of the survivors, agreed, adding that Anderson’s case has not received anywhere near as much media coverage or public recognition as other sex abuse cases because the vast majority of survivors are older, Black men. 

“For Larry Nassar, you had prominently White, 30-year-old women, whereas for Dr. Anderson, the vast majority of the survivors are Black and in their 50s, 60s and 70s. This case is overlooked in part because of that,” he said.

“I think our society looks down on men who are sexually abused, let alone big, strong, athletic, Black men who are sexually abused, compared to female survivors of abuse,” Stinar added. “Because they have this societal influence that asks men: How can they allow themselves to be sexually abused?”

Rebecca Wanzo, professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University, St. Louis, also expressed her view that race plays a significant part in whether or how violence and abuse is reported by the media.

“If you don’t have someone who’s the face of something that they [the media] put forward, or seems like an ideal victim that people want to tell a story about, historically, that is something that can really affect the ability of a story to travel,” she explained. 

This, she said, is often an issue when it comes to reporting issues like sexual abuse and murder.

“Systemic violence often tends to get less attention, which is why violence against people of color, systemic violence in general, in terms of class and other factors, isn’t reported,” she said.

“We don’t have a language to talk about Black as rapeable in the US, because the racist stereotypes of Black men as the rapist and as violent stops us from looking at data that’s been collected by the CDC for the last decade,” Tommy Curry, professor of philosophy and personal Chair of Africana Philosophy and Black Male Studies at The University of Edinburgh stated.

There are several reasons why Black men choose not to report abuse, Curry told CNN.
“We know from interviews with Black male victims that it’s not only the pressures of not being believed — but it’s also being perceived as the aggressor,” he explained.

Curry said that his research had shown that in domestic violence cases, Black men would stay in situations of abuse, or they would not report victimization. 

“They fear that the police or the criminal justice system or society is going to view them as the perpetrator and they’ll be criminalized even harsher than the kinds of abuse and violence that they suffer,” Curry said. 

“A lot of racists would say, ‘No, he was really the aggressor, he tried to rape me, I wouldn’t rape a man. It wasn’t me. This person was violent or aggressive, or he’s a drug dealer, a thief.’ 

“All these racial stereotypes are utilized to undercut the credibility of Black men who are victims in ways that other groups don’t have to deal with,” he said.

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Meanwhile, The University of Michigan finalized a new sexual and gender based misconduct policy in September, but critics say abuse and assault between students and by university staff still isn’t being dealt with well enough.

Vaughn said that since he has been protesting, he has been approached by students who have told him of their own experiences of sexual assault and abuse at the university.
There were 157 allegations of sexual assault reported to the University’s Office for Institutional Equity (OIE) from July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020, according to its yearly report.

There were 77 reported instances of sexual harassment and 57 reports of stalking, according to the University’s Division of Public Safety and Security, which provided the data as “additional information regarding crime reports on campus.”

Campus enrollment in 2019 stood at 48,090 students, and 47,907 enrolled in 2020.
“All the reporting agencies within the university have essentially failed all the students and all the student athletes, because they’ve done nothing to support in any consistent manner, or protect in any consistent manner,” Vaughn said.

In addition to Anderson, at least five current and former university professors and officials have faced accusations of sexual harassment or abuse in the last few years.

In a statement, Rick Fitzgerald, associate vice president of Public Affairs and Internal Communications at the University of Michigan said:

“We encourage every incident of misconduct to be reported and we take action,” pointing towards the university’s annual report for further details. The University of Michigan always has taken sexual misconduct seriously and we have been increasing our efforts steadily,” and that a Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center has been on campus for almost 40 years”.

Vaughn wants the university to create programs that empower students to report instances of sexual violence, and strengthen mechanisms to protect students.

Credit: CNN

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