It’s been almost a year since disgraced USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to life in prison for sexual assault. The court decision brought vindication to the more than 100 women who testified that Nassar abused them. Yet some are still vilifying his victims. In a January 11th article in The Detroit News about a potential “Healing Assistance Fund” for victims of Nassar who weren’t included in the $500 million settlement awarded in 2018, Michigan State University’s Interim President John Engler was quoted as saying that some of the survivors are “enjoying” the attention they’ve received from coming forward.
Let’s get one thing clear: Coming forward about abuse and submitting oneself to intense public scrutiny is not enjoyable. It is often painful and re-traumatizing, and those who do it are incredibly brave. Being “recognized” for that bravery doesn’t undermine any of the trauma, nor should they ever be accused of enjoying attention.
Backlash to Engler’s comments was swift. In a January 12th statement to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dianne Byrum, chairwoman of the MSU Board of Trustees, said, “His remarks were ill advised and not helpful to the healing process, survivors, or the university.”
And now, Engler could be removed from his position at the university. According to the Detroit Free Press, the board of trustees has scheduled a meeting on January 17th to discuss his future at the school. Board member Brian Mosallam, who has reportedly advocated for Engler’s removal, told the paper that “John Engler’s reign of terror is over.”
The Free Press notes that Engler has frequently been criticized for the way he has handled the Nassar case. He originally canceled the Healing Assistance Fund until the board voted to reinstate it. And in April, he accused Nassar survivor Rachael Denhollander of being paid by attorneys to file a lawsuit against MSU. The Detroit Metro Times reports that as governor of Michigan in the ’90s, he tried to stop incarcerated women from suing over sexual assault.
Engler’s comments demonstrate that, even in 2019, victim-shaming is still an ongoing problem. As always, we stand with all survivors and continue to fight for their voices to he heard, respected, and acted on.