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Child advocate says ‘get comfortable’ talking to kids about abuse in wake of Schembechler news

Matt Schembechler says he was abused by University of Michigan–Ann Arbor team doctor who was a part of his father’s football staff.
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Child advocate says ‘get comfortable' talking to kids about abuse in wake of Schembechler news
Posted at 7:13 PM, Jun 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-10 21:23:02-04

MICHIGAN — A former doctor with the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, who treated football players and other athletes, has been accused of sexually abusing hundreds of men over the span of three decades, a 240-page document revealed last month.

READ MORE: Here are recommendations outlined for U of M in Anderson sex abuse report

Matt Schembechler, son of the legendary football coach Bo Schembechler, said he was one of them.

“I’m coming forward for my own healing and to help prevent people and institutions from exploiting the trust, power and authority given to them,” Schembechler said during a press conference Thursday morning in Detroit. “As a 10-year-old kid, I didn’t know what to expect. But what Dr. Anderson did made me feel uncomfortable. He fondled my genitals and conducted an invasive rectal exam with his finger.”

Schembechler was joined by others who shared their experiences of abuse with Dr. Anderson, who died in 2008.

“We see these cases time and again when it’s somebody who’s seen as a respected professional, an upstanding citizen in the community and they’re very charismatic and they have won over other adults. So it becomes very hard for those adults to imagine that they be capable of doing something,” said Melissa Werkman during an interview with FOX 17. “But, we also know and we see every day that, first of all, children generally don’t have the knowledge to make this up. It does come from somewhere.”

Werkman is the executive director at the Children's Advocacy Center of Kent County, where they work with children who experienced abuse and trauma like Schembechler did. According to the ChildHelp nonprofit, abuse occurs in all sports and impacts 2–8 percent of all athletes. Also, 90 percent of victims of sexual child abuse know who their perpetrators are.

However, it can be difficult for them to speak out, especially when large institutions and systems are involved in some way.

“I can’t speak to the case of the University of Michigan. It’s unsubstantiated still with [Michigan State University] because we don’t have a lot of those records. Oftentimes with public institutions, there’s funding at risk,” Werkman said. “There’s public perception. There’s admission numbers. There’s giant athletic programs that are very high profile. It really is sad that those things take precedent over keeping kids safe. Very sad.”

The University of Michigan Board of Regents and President Mark Schlissel released a statement after the press conference saying in part:

“Our sympathy for all of Anderson’s victims is deep and unwavering, and we thank them for their bravery in coming forward. We condemn and apologize for the tragic misconduct of the late Dr. Robert Anderson, who left the University 17 years ago and died 13 years ago. We are committed to resolving their claims and to continuing the court-guided confidential mediation process.”

Despite the trauma, healing is a possibility. The Children’s Advocacy Center even has a healing garden to help their clients open up about the trauma they experienced. Werkman suggested it's best parents initiate conversations with their kids about abuse.

“It’s a topic that makes people uncomfortable. But, if you’re uncomfortable, your child is going to be uncomfortable sharing with you or another trusted adult because they also then feel like it’s something they shouldn’t talk about and they will continue to bury it,” Werkman said. “So, get comfortable with speaking to them about it. The more that you speak to them about it, the more confidence they are going to have.”

***Important Numbers***

(855) 444-3911 Child Protective Services

(616) 336-5160 Child Advocacy Center

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