The importance of lending your voice
On Monday, March 26, Grand Valley State University alumna and investigative reporter for the Indianapolis Star Marisa Kwiatkowski returned to campus to deliver two separate talks about her part in breaking the USA Gymnastics/Larry Nassar story.
The first talk, held in the Linn Maxwell Keller Black Box Theatre, was a more intimate gathering that featured students' questions. The later, more public event was held downtown in the Richard M. DeVos Center Loosemore Auditorium. In both talks, a mother of a survivor came forward to speak. In the later event, a survivor took the stage to bravely share her story, too.
One of the things that was heavily discussed in both sessions was the power of voices. Everyone has a right to hold those in control accountable, to be inquisitive and to ask for answers. Kwiatkowski spoke about her personal motivation to tell the stories of those who feel they don't have a voice, or whose voices are not being adequately heard by the public. In her investigation into USA Gymnastics and Nassar, Kwiatkowski was careful to ensure the survivors were comfortable bringing their stories to light with such an explicit level of detail.
In this particular investigative case, more than 250 women have now come forward as survivors of Nassar's abuse, with 156 of these women bravely confronting Nassar in his public trial. The findings of the IndyStar investigation, coupled with the many powerful testimonies heard around the world, were enough to enact some major changes. As a result, Congress passed a bill making it a federal crime for national governing bodies to fail to immediately report sexual abuse allegations. On top of that, Nassar is now in prison, and the president and board of directors of USA Gymnastics have resigned.
Former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon also resigned amid the fallout of the Nassar case. Even more important in this is the fact that the board (sadly) voted to keep her on; it was the powerful and seemingly unanimous public cry for her resignation that forced her to step down.
In all of these decisions following the USA Gymnastics/Nassar investigation, it was ultimately the voices of those who didn't hold positions of control that created lasting, impactful change. For every person who lent their voice, another person gained the courage to lend theirs, too, eventually creating a community of voices far too loud to ignore.
During her two talks, Kwiatkowski also spoke about not pressuring survivors to come forward if they do not feel comfortable doing so, as all of their stories are their own, no one else's. This is also important to understand. No one should be forced to relive the traumas they have already been put through; survivors should only share their stories if they think that doing so is the right decision for them.
When survivors do come forward, Title IX laws mandate that educators have a responsibility to report the allegations. And allegations should never be met with skepticism, as it is well-documented that coming forward isn't an easy thing to do in the first place. Kwiatkowski told attendees of the first event that in order to change the narrative of sexual abuse and victim blaming, people should firstly believe those who come forward with allegations, and secondly report the incidents as required by law.
Kristen Chatman, the mother of a survivor, explained why she regrets having that skepticism at the evening event.
"In all honesty, we were those people that denied (the allegations against Nassar)," she said. "They must be confused, they must have got it wrong. ... My daughter was able to really embrace what had happened to her because of the survivors.
"That voice is so important."