Athletes, coaches, professors and students gathered in the Jack Miller auditorium on Monday, January 6th to view the documentary “At The Heart of Gold: Inside The USA Gymnastics Scandal.” After the viewing of the film, audience members witnessed an interview with survivor Melody Posthuma from the Army of Survivors. Dr. Kristen Gray, Associate Dean for Health and Counseling, conducted the interview. Throughout the viewing and post-documentary discussion, the audience was urged to put their mental health first, including leaving to talk to counsellors or take a break in the designated room. This shows just how powerful the presentation was and how important it is that these topics are addressed sensitively. Hope College did an amazing job keeping the audience as comfortable as possible, while still fully educating them on the horrific experiences of the Army of Survivors and the USA Gymnastics team. Posthuma described how audience members could be better allies for survivors of sexual abuse, one ocusing on the language that is used or these topics and for peoples’ distressing experiences. She used herself as an example, expressing that she would prefer to be referred to as a “survivor” rather than as a “victim.”
These are the types of subjects that Posthuma travels around Michigan talking about, specifically educating others about and advocating for sexual abuse survivors. Melody Posthuma actually grew up in Holland and Lansing, MI. She graduated from Grand Valley State and now works in Los Angeles. At the beginning her of her career, Posthuma worked at a local level, but soon realized that it was too hard for her and moved on to travelling. She switched to advocating around Michigan, rather than trying to target legal issues that were close to her own experiences. Posthuma has a website (melodyvanderveen.com) that explains her history with advocacy as well as her other interests, dance and photography. Along with the HBO documentary that was shown on Monday night, Posthuma took part in a series on Audible called “Twisted: The Story of Larry Nassar and the Women Who Took Him Down.” Currently, Posthuma is working in Los Angeles with Global Sports Development, helping with advocacy for sexual abuse survivors through their program, Courage First. Courage First specifically focuses on sexual abuse in sports as well as predatory behavior. It is important to note that Hope athletes were required to go to this discussion because of the culture that surrounds athletics today. “Between two and eight percent of youth athletes find themselves victims of sexual abuse while engaging in sport, and ninety eight of these cases find predators to be coaches, teachers, and instructors” (couragefirst.org). These numbers are startling, considering the high number of young people that participate in sports. Because education and prevention go hand in hand, it is important that Hope athletes attend these types of events to educate themselves. “At The Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal” was focused on that scandal specifically, but did a good job of showing how predators are easily enabled by ignorance. With programs like Courage First, all people can be educated of the frequency of sexual abuse in youth sports and thus become more aware of the part they play in the larger picture. Unfortunately, athletics are too often a target for sexual predators, especially with youth sports teams.
Thankfully, athletes are not helpless against their abusers. With people like Melody Posthuma, the world of sports is working toward being safer for future athletes. Learning how allies can let survivors define their own sharing parameters was an important part of the discussion that followed the viewing. It takes a lot of courage for a survivor to disclose information, so it is vital that all people are prepared to receive it. And yes, there is a proper way to react to the information that one chooses to share. First off it is important to just listen. Hear what the survivor has to say without pressuring them for more information, then respond within the boundaries that they set.
In the example above, it is evident that Posthuma would rather be called a survivor. In this case, it would be important for the person receiving the information to refer to her as a survivor rather than as a victim to ensure her comfort. Posthuma did an interview with HBO along with the documentary and stated that “by learning terminology, understanding the world of triggers, and how to talk (or not talk) to someone about their trauma are great places to begin.” This is great information because it is fairly universal for almost all survivors, which is exactly the interesting part – there is no universal answer or cure. The best thing that a supporter can do is to provide comfort and give help when it is requested. Posthuma also talked about her personal healing and the role of therapy in it. She took part in many different kinds of therapy including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Neurofeedback, Cranial Sacral and regular talk therapy. She also talked about therapy in the discussion with Dr. Kristen Gray and strongly recommended therapy to survivors, supporters, and anyone else that feels they would benefit from it. She stated that it has brought back “a sense of normalcy and stability,” as well as helping to calm Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms and anxiety. While therapy can greatly help survivors, supporters should focus on being advocating so that they can respond appropriately when the time comes. Make sure that it is verbally affirmed that the survivor’s story is valid and that it is not their fault
. This could sound like “I believe you.” or simply put, “You did nothing to deserve this.” Acknowledge that they are not alone in this event and there are plenty of people to talk to, but again never make them feel pressured. According to www.rainn.org, the top three ways to be a continued supporter are avoiding judgement, checking in periodically and knowing about resources if they are ever needed or requested.While the viewing and discussion following “At The Heart of Gold: Inside The USA Gymnastics Scandal” was heavy and difficult to process, it was an important piece of education that will prevent sexual assault in athletics. Although athletes were required to attend the event, the whole audience was encouraged to put their mental health first throughout the entire presentation. Hope College provides confidential Counselling and Psychological Services for survivors of sexual assault, and survivors, their supporters, and all students are welcome to use these services.