The Nassar effect: Sex assault survivors continue to speak out

Are more women coming forward after abuse

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - Nearly every week and all across the country, allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct are surfacing left and right it seems. From teachers, to preachers, to politicians, but this isn't new. This abuse has been going on for years, the difference now are the victims who feel more empowered.

Last month, hundreds of women and girls spoke in court about sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of former Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar. Many of his abuse survivors chose to come forward after other victims went public with their stories.

The Me Too movement, gained national traction last year, after dozens of women, many of them well-known actresses, publicly accused movie producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct. Some of those victims said he assaulted them two decades ago.

"There's a comfort level now for individuals who have been sexually assaulted to have a better sense of how the community and their families will react to it," YWCA Programing Director Tom Cottrell said.

All of these reports are pulling back the curtain on sexual assault.

"With the Nassar hearing, and families beginning to talk about disclosure victims have a better sense of what to anticipate and that fear of the unknown is what keeps people from disclosing in the first place. And now, that fear has been reduced because there's a better sense of how other individuals are going to react," Cottrell said.

Survivors are finally feeling validated and heard.

"In our therapy sessions, we're using these events and what's been publicized to help victims recover, they're been validated within their therapies and support groups that they're not alone," Cottrell said.

That mindset could take away the an assailant's power.

"The real upside of all this as the assailants have less and less of an argument to keep victims quiet so over time we may end up reducing sexual assault because it will be better known that victims will not keep quiet," Cottrell said.

Survivors are beginning to take back their power.

"Our society for many many years has been based on keeping victims quiet and punishing them in many ways for disclosing so to turn that tides is going to take a while but I think the more we can be supportive, the more we can encourage and the more victims come forward, I think we will continue to get more and more disclosures," Cottrell said.

The YWCA has a 24-hour confidential helpline you can call, 616-454-9922.

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