ELHS Alum Tells Her Story of Being a Nassar Survivor

Monday, April 22, 2019, 12:43 pm
By: 
Mara Logan

ELHS alumni Eve Petrie began toddling her way across balance beams at the early age of 3, practicing frequently and eventually becoming a Junior Olympic Gymnast. At 11, she saw Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics physician, for the first time. The visit was for a tailbone injury and, over the next three years, she continued to see him for back issues.

When she was 15, a fellow gymnast and patient of Nassar made Petrie aware of sexual abuse allegations made against him by other patients. Petrie, who graduated from ELHS in 2018, believed that Nassar’s accusers were simply misinterpreting procedures he was performing, techniques that she knew firsthand could be misunderstood as being “inappropriate.”

“I didn’t believe it,” Petrie said. “I understood how someone could misinterpret what he was doing as being inappropriate, but I just thought my back is getting better, so clearly what he was doing was professional, was medical.”

Then, as more and more allegations arose, Petrie began to realize she wasn’t “seeing the situation as it really was.”

“My mom specifically asked me if I had thought anything had happened, and I denied it every time because I hadn’t accepted it was true,” Petrie said. “I didn’t see anything wrong with what he was doing.”

One night, while sitting in her living room with her mother and sister, Petrie found herself watching a documentary on gymnast Aly Raisman. Hearing the Olympian’s own experience with Nassar, Petrie recognized herself in Raisman’s words.

“She was describing exactly the same things that were happening to me,” Petrie said.

Until that point, Petrie had only heard that it was happening to other girls, but in that moment, hearing the details of Raisman’s experiences, Petrie realized that she, like too many other women, was a victim of Larry Nassar.

“I looked to my mom and I said, ‘I think Nassar touched me inappropriately.’”

Just a few months later, in January 2018, Petrie found the strength to testify in front of a courtroom filled with hundreds of other women, her friends, parents, and a judge who was “one hundred and ten percent” on her side. Looking into Nassar’s eyes and sharing her story, she was speaking up for herself.

“Being able to put everything I was feeling into words … it was also kind of closure,” Petrie said. “I could really accept that it had happened, because still I was doubting myself, thinking I was overreacting.”

With that day, Petrie’s journey wasn’t over. In July 2018, she stood alongside 140 other women and received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYs (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly), also attending forums of discussion about sexual assault, and later doing an interview with Glamour magazine.

These were the moments that weren’t for Petrie as an individual - but represented her part in the movement sweeping the nation.

“I was hoping to bring it to the public’s attention that this is real and this happened and it can happen anywhere,” Petrie said. “If no one recognized it, if it's just a court case, people can look by that. But continuously going out keeps it in the public eye and that’s when change happens, is when people start to acknowledge that things are wrong and things need to be stopped.”

ELHS faculty, staff, and coaches consider how to grapple with the challenges.

In the wake of the Nassar trial, Michigan State University has invested more than $3 million into programs aimed at creating a support system for students to help respond to and prevent sexual misconduct. However, investigation by high school reporters finds that ELHS protocols regarding sexual misconduct have virtually remained the same.

The last sexual misconduct training for ELHS teachers occurred in the fall of 2017, and other than an an annual review on their duties as a mandatory reporters, no other training is actively provided.

Despite this, Principal Andrew Wells remains confident in the District’s protocol.

“We (the ELHS administration) have always approached sexual assault in a very serious manner,” Wells said. “I would say what’s happened now, not only at ELHS, is a heightened awareness of sexual assault situations, of sensitivity toward gender issues which I think is a … positive thing to raise everyone's awareness of sexual misconduct.”

Rebecca Campbell, a professor of psychology at MSU who does research focusing on violence against women and children, offered insight into the community mindset.

“What I generally do see is that the entire East Lansing community is very, very, concerned about this,” Campbell said. “And that includes students of ELHS, parents of ELHS, teachers at ELHS really trying to take a good hard critical look to say ‘what are we doing to keep children, adolescents and young adults safe?’”

Although sexual misconduct – a term encompassing sexual assault and harassment – has been a hot issue for decades, in the past few years it’s grown into a critical concern nationwide, including among many East Lansing residents.

ELHS does have several protocols for responding to student reports of sexual misconduct. First, teachers are considered “mandatory reporters,” meaning that if a student discloses an incident of sexual misconduct to them, they are immediately required to report it to the administration. The same holds true for athletic coaches and school counselors.

From there a member of the administration, typically one of the principals, will report the incident to the ELPD, usually via ELHS’s liaison, Officer Nicole Mitchell. According to Mitchell, the Police Department then reaches out to the student’s parents to set up an interview with Small Talk, a local children’s advocacy center.

This system strives to ensure that students are protected and that immediate action is taken, even without actively providing training for staff.

Although Campbell, the MSU psychology professor, supports this approach, she also emphasizes the need for education on sexual misconduct, especially for individuals considered mandatory reporters.

“I think it's important for all K-12 schools to be clear who’s a mandatory reporter and do all those mandatory reporters know what to do,” Campbell said. “Just because there's a policy saying you’re a mandatory reporter – do these people have training, do they know how to respond with empathy, do they know who to call in law enforcement, do they know what social services they're supposed to help connect the victim to?”

ELHS Athletic Director Nikki Norris is working toward ensuring her coaches understand their roles as mandatory reporters by providing sexual misconduct education for them.

Norris, in her first year as AD at ELHS, has worked to create professional development meetings for all coaches a few times a semester, and plans on bringing in a guest speaker during the second semester this year. She hopes to help coaches understand how to approach or respond to victims of sexual assault, as well as how to maintain safe boundaries with athletes.

“Right now  I tell my coaches that if there’s any suspicion reach out to me and I will help (them) through it,” Norris said. “It is something that we’re looking at in our department, not just to report but if you recognize signs in your athletes trying to figure out how to get them the support they need.”

ELHS gymnastics coach Claire Fossum has coached some of these athletes firsthand, including Petrie.

“Learning what these girls have gone through it's just totally unbelievable and I can't believe how strong they are coming out of it,” Fossum said. “So as a coach I really try to nurture that strength and make sure that they feel comfortable.”

Until the sexual assault education is implemented, Fossum and the rest of the ELHS staff will continue to support their students to the best of their abilities.

“I just want them to always be able to talk to me, always be able to communicate with me,” Fossum said. “As a coach, I really just try to be the positive role model in their lives that I know that they need because things have been so negative lately.”

In the meantime, Petrie keeps working to make things better.

In the aftermath of the Nassar scandal, Petrie is moving not on, but forward. She is fighting to keep the discussion of sexual assault, the awareness, and the move for change alive and in the spotlight.

Petrie plans to put this into action by joining awareness groups at Kalamazoo College that are focused on preventing and eliminating sexual misconduct and domestic violence. She also hopes to speak publicly about her experiences.

“Understand that your story is the truth,” Petrie said. “You have to believe in yourself that you can do it and you’re strong enough to do it.”

This wasn’t something that always came easily to Petrie. She often found herself repressing memories of her experiences and the emotions that went along with them, until at some point they boiled over.

“There were times when it would spring up into my mind and that’s when it was really destructive, and when I was really upset and couldn’t really do anything about it,” Petrie said. “And so I started going on walks and just leaving whatever area I was in.”

Living in East Lansing in close proximity to MSU and the sports medicine building, Petrie struggled to move forward, but with the move to Kalamazoo this past fall, she finds herself thinking about it less and less.

“It’s just finding passions,” Petrie said. “Being on the dive team, trying to make new friends – just getting my mind off things and realizing that it gets better and the world keeps spinning and moves on.”

But even as she moves on, Petrie will never stop speaking up.

“Use your voice,” Petrie says to other survivors. “Before I never would have gone to the ESPYs.”

One year later Petrie has made incredible strides: going to forums that focus on sexual assault, attending protests, sharing her story in a nationally recognized magazine – making her voice heard.

“It does not make you any less of a person to be a survivor of sexual assault,” Petrie said. “It doesn’t define you – there’s much more to you than that. And you’re not alone.”

Note: This article was originally published in Portrait, the newspaper of ELHS. It is reprinted in a slightly edited form with the permission of the reporter. If you or someone you know is seeking assistance with issues related to sexual misconduct, [shortened] at the high school, all counselors and administrators are trained to support and handle these cases. The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline provides confidential support 24/7, basic medical information, and opportunities for local assistance and support. To reach that hotline, call 800.656.HOPE (4673). The Women’s Center of Greater Lansing offers counseling and support groups to sexual assault survivors and can be reached at (517) 372-9163.

 

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