Justice has finally been attained in one of the most harrowing sexual assault cases yet. Or has it?
The University of Michigan, one of the nation’s top-ranking institutions of higher education, agreed to a $490 million settlement in one of the most far-reaching sexual abuse scandals in recent history. The settlement compensates more than a thousand sexual abuse survivors, most of them men, who were assaulted by Dr. Robert E. Anderson. Of that amount, $30 million will be set aside for future claims by survivors who haven’t yet come forward.
The Sexual Abuse Scandal That Spanned Decades
Anderson was a highly regarded sports medicine practitioner who spent four decades at the university, from 1966 until his retirement in 2003. Throughout that time, he served as a gatekeeper for the school’s Division I football program, conducting the annual physical examinations that were required for students to participate in football and other athletic programs. During the course of those examinations, he routinely assaulted students. He died in 2008.
An independent investigation found that university officials had been informed of the abuse. They had numerous opportunities to take action against Anderson but failed to do so.
Does The Settlement Go Far Enough?
Many consider the settlement a victory for survivors. However, the whistleblower who initially spoke out against Anderson feels that it doesn’t do enough to remedy the toxic culture on campus. A recent shift in leadership with the removal of President Mark Schlissel for misconduct may pave the way for greater transparency.
The settlement highlights how difficult it is to place a monetary value on the harm survivors have suffered. For comparison, other recent scandals involving assault by doctors and coaches at prominent universities have reached similar settlements, including:
- $500 million for 300 survivors of sexual assault by Larry Nassar at Michigan State
- $100 million for 35 people assaulted by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State University
- $1 billion in combined settlements for 700 women assaulted by campus gynecologist George Tyndall at the University of Southern California, 72 of whom were represented by Allred, Maroko & Goldberg
- $40 million for 160 men abused by Richard Strauss at Ohio State University
In a disturbing pattern that has now become all too familiar, these cases involve misuse of power by leaders and sweeping coverups by the institutions that continued to employ them, even after the abuse came to light. No amount of compensation can make up for the lifelong trauma that survivors must endure. At the very least, however, the settlements signal a growing tide of awareness that such abuse will eventually come to light – at great cost to employers who sweep it under the rug. They send a strong message that allegations of sexual abuse should always be taken seriously.