Morgan McCaul, sexual assault advocate and survivor of Larry Nassar, spoke at Grand Rapids Community College as part of Title IX’s “Healing Through Advocacy” event at the Library and Learning Commons on Tuesday.
McCaul was one of the first eight victims to speak out against Nassar’s abuse in 2016 after having been treated for a dance injury by Nassar at the age of 12. She stopped seeing him for her original dance injury at the age of 15, but by then she had accumulated physical and emotional injuries at the hands of Nassar and his sexual abuse.
“My appointments with Larry Nassar ended in 2015 in the same year my mental health spiraled absolutely out of control,” McCaul said. “The little girl that adored dance class couldn’t get out the door to the studio, let alone get out of bed. I became anxious, explosive, intensely sensitive to criticism and questions. My grades, which had been pristine, plummeted as school became a scary place.
“I sobbed night after night, and I begged my parents… to let me take online classes,” McCaul continued. “I isolated myself. I couldn’t bring myself to spend time with friends or even text them back. I wanted to die. I was hospitalized shortly before my 16th birthday diagnosed with depression, and my parents went from raising me and being proud of me to being on suicide watch.”
After the first victims went public with their stories of sexual abuse by Nassar, McCaul joined their cause and spoke up about her own experiences with the disgraced doctor. McCaul is now focused on speaking publicly about her story to raise awareness to sexual abuse and assault and is an advocate for victims, which McCaul attributes to her own healing process.
McCaul’s keynote address was followed by a panel discussion including McCaul, GRCC Title IX Coordinator Kimberly DeVries, YWCA Director of Clinical Services Patti Haist and GRCC Counseling and Career Center Development Counselor/Interim Program Director Stacey Heisler.
DeVries spoke about GRCC’s Title IX process and what students need to do in case they are faced with a situation on campus relating to sexual assault, abuse, dating violence, harassment or any other questionable situation where students feel uncomfortable.
The initial reporting can take place at DeVries’s office in the Bostwick Office, by the first floor of the Bostwick Parking Ramp off of Fountain Street, or it can be done through a staff or faculty member.
“A lot of people also talk to faculty or staff or advisers of student organizations and make a complaint or report to them and then they will refer it onto me,” DeVries said. “So if we get a report from anyone about anything that falls within our sexual misconduct policy – sexual harassment, stalking, sexual exploitation, domestic or dating violence – we will reach out to the person involved… and invite them into a conversation about what they would like to do and what resources they might need and what we can provide. If the other person involved, the perpetrator of whatever happened, is within our jurisdiction, so it’s a student or community member at GRCC, then we would talk about the possibility of an investigation that could result in sanctions within our conduct code. But if they’re not, and a lot of times they’re not, then our conversation focuses on resources.”
The resources offered either stay within the GRCC community, with referrals to a counselor, or to outside facilities like the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), located at 25 Sheldon Ave. in downtown Grand Rapids.
There are 10 counselors at GRCC who are trained to respond to same-day counseling needs and three counselors – including Heisler, Andre Fields and Emily Nisley – who offer ongoing services.
“We also do a lot of programing around workshops and coping skills strategies for mental health,” Heisler said. “Also we have the suicide prevention grant here at GRCC which is in its last six months… ”
At the YWCA, victims can get an array of services including a free medical forensic examination after an assault has occurred without needing to go to the emergency room, where Haist says victims of sexual assault have taken a back seat to other urgent patients suffering from heart attacks and other emergencies.
“Victims of sexual assault come to us for their medical forensic examination, no longer needing to go to a hospital emergency room” Haist said. “Hospitals know that this is not a patient population that they serve well. In the past, when victims were going to the emergency departments, they were there for hours… Now, if we know what time the patient is coming to us, from the time they get there until the time they leave it’s usually about a two-hour timeframe.”
In order to properly process a forensic examination, or what is commonly known as a rape kit, there are certain guidelines for patients to follow.
“The timeframe from the assault has to be within 120 hours and the victim needs to be able to consent to the exam,” Heisler said. “If say that alcohol was involved as part of the assault and the victim is intoxicated we would say ‘take some time to sleep and then we could do your exam tomorrow’ so it would still be within that 120 hours or five days.”
The YWCA can keep that kit for upto 18 months and the victim can decide at any point during that time frame whether they want to send it off to the local police department for processing.
For more information on Title IX policies at GRCC, visit their page on GRCC’s main site. There, students can find information on how to file a complaint or to reach out to the Title IX team. To reach the YWCA’s 24-hour confidential crisis hotline, call (616) 454-9922.
To watch the full speech and the discussion panel, click here or watch below.