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MSU offers free medical care to sex assault victims

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

A new Michigan State University program announced Thursday will offer free and confidential medical care 24 hours a day to individuals who have experienced sexual assault and seek care within a five-day period.

The new program follows an extensive review and investigation of former sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar, who serving is 60-year federal prison sentence for assaulting female gymnasts at MSU and Lansing area gymnastic clubs. About 500 women and children have alleged they were assaulted by Nassar during physical examinations dating to 1992.

Spectators enjoy the sun on Friday, April 20, 2018, as "Reclaim MSU" and a group of Nassar survivors hold a rally in front of the Administration Building.

Nassar has been sentenced to an additional 175 years in state prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of sexually assaulting minors. MSU was fined $4.5 million by the federal government for a “complete failure” in protecting students.

“This (program) is a good step forward in providing services for sexual assault victims,” said attorney Mick Grewal, who represented more than 100 Nassar survivors in litigation against MSU that resulted in a $500 million settlement.

“But it does have some drawbacks,” Grewal said. “It is not offered to children and some people — children or adults — are so traumatized that they may not be comfortable coming forward within five days of an assault.”

Grewal said some of his clients and others familiar with some of the cases were consulted about the program.

The MSU Sexual Assault Healthcare Program facilities are located with the MSU Center for Survivors in the Student Services Building. Increased safety measures in light of the COVID-19 pandemic have been put in place as the facility opened at 9 a.m. Thursday.

“The staff members at the Center for Survivors have been talking with community partners about the possibility of creating a community-based sexual assault nurse examiner program in the Lansing area for years,” said Tana Fedewa, director of the Center for Survivors at MSU. “When we became aware of an opportunity to partner with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the dream became a possibility.”

Fedewa said MSU’s Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct expert advisory workgroup recommended the university create a trauma-informed, inclusive and accessible sexual assault health care program.

MSU sought input from forensic nursing consultant Jenifer Markowitz and the International Association of Forensic Nurses, leading to development of a facility customized to the needs of sexual assault survivors along with training for clinical staff in the national model for sexual assault patient care.

A statewide Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Advisory Board was formed and chaired by MSU professor of psychology Rebecca Campbell, who leads the university's violence and misconduct workgroup and advises university president Samuel Stanley on workgroup matters.

“We are grateful so many survivors and advocates throughout Michigan participated in the planning process for this program,” Campbell said in a news release. “With their guidance, our program staff are ready to provide quality health care to survivors of all genders, survivors with disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA+ communities and survivors from different racial, ethnic and cultural groups.”

Architects and designers used guidance from Markowitz, the workgroup, the SANE Advisory Board and campus service providers to make the renovated space feel safe, welcoming and patient-centered, the university said.

“The Sexual Assault Healthcare Program suite is designed to provide care for one patient at a time,” Fedewa said. “This program will first and foremost tend to the health and well-being of each person who seeks treatment.”

The waiting room offers comfortable seating and soft lighting. Adjacent to the examination room is a sitting room where the forensic nurse can meet with a patient to collect medical history prior to the exam. The examination room is a large suite with an attached bathroom for patients that's equipped with an accessible shower, toiletries, self-care items and replacement clothing.  

Program medical director Sameerah Shareef, a longtime nurse midwife in the Lansing area, will lead the nurses conducting the specialized exams. An MSU Center for Survivors care coordinator will train and supervise volunteer medical advocates, who will be available around the clock to provide critical support during an exam.

Afterward, the care coordinator will connect patients to MSU and community resources and services.

The program is funded by a federal grant through the Victims of Crime Act, Fedewa said. Both females and males are treated in the program, she said.

Fedewa cited a campus survey of students that revealed:

--Sexual harassment was the most prevalent type of victimization students experienced. Nearly two-thirds of undergraduate women, half of women graduate/professional students; 42.2% of undergraduate men and 32.4% of men graduate/professional students experienced sexual harassment in the 2018-19 academic year.

--About 13% of undergraduate women, 3.5% of undergraduate men, 3.7% of women graduate/professional students and 1.5% of of men graduate professional students experienced sexual assault in the 2018-19 academic year.

--More than a quarter of undergraduate women had experienced sexual assault since enrolling at MSU (27.3%). The estimate was 8.5% for undergraduate men, 12% for women graduate/professional students and 2.6% for men graduate/professional students.

--The lifetime sexual assault rate was 41.4% for women graduate/professional students and 38.9% for undergraduate women.

“More than 41% of our student population — male and female — reported they had experienced sexual assault at some point before or after enrolling at the school,” she said, adding the hope is to broaden the program to include children in the future.

Anyone needing to report sexual assault and seek health care treatment can call (517) 353-2700.

For updates on the program, visit centersforsurvivors@msu.edu.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319