Voices for Children helping kids gain courage through Nassar survivors' strength

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FLINT (WJRT) (4/11/2019) - Last year, hundreds of women stood up against former sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar.

The Voices for Children child advocacy center in Flint is now using their words spoken in a Lansing courtroom to empower young kids healing from similar abuse.

In January 2018, more than 100 gymnasts began their healing from years of sexual abuse -- all at the hands of former sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar.

"It allowed kids to know that it's not OK," said Nyse Holloman, executive director of Voices for Children. "It showed that our state, that our nation, recognized that a doctor cannot get away with what they've done."

More than a year later, the women's words are part of the healing process for children in Genesee County. Children as young as 2 and as old as 18 who have dealt with the same kind of monster are finding a new source of strength from the gymnasts.

"It could be a family member. It could be a friend. It could be a church member. It could be anybody," Holloman said. "Larry Nassar is just one person, but he is all of the perpetrators. He's all of the offenders that have hurt kids."

Holloman's team assists both police and Child Protective Services to get the children who have been physically and sexually abused to open up.

"But because they brought up all of that trauma, because they've gone through these very traumatic experiences, it's important for them to have immediate crisis counseling, and then to be in therapy to help them work through it," she said.

That's where Paula Archambault comes in as the center's children and family therapist.

"I'm able to use the toys that are in this room -- the games, the puppets -- as a way to use the children's natural language to tell their story of what has happened to them," she said.

More recently, Archambault learned it's helpful when they can see and hear from other survivors. So she started sharing videos with them of the women speaking up against Nassar.

The women's stories not very different from many of the children's experiences.

"They are able to see that I have the strength of all of them behind me -- that it's not just me standing up there, it is a whole group of people," Archambault said. "So I think that that's the best part of it."

Archambault said they also talk about Nassar's punishment, reminding the kids the person who hurt them won't be able to hurt them anymore.

"Then the most rewarding thing that I see in situations like that is the parent acknowledging the strength and then stating that same pride that they have and thanking their child for speaking up," she said. "It's very emotional. It usually ends up with a few tears, but it's those rewarding tears of healing and refreshment."

Archambault said Olympian Aly Raisman standing up in court seems to really inspire the kids.

"Because they have seen her as an Olympian and so they can see her strength both on the Olympic format and on the courtroom," Archambault said. "So they can identify with the dreams that she had and that the abuse didn't stop her dream."

Their dreams are possible too. Holloman said one of the most rewarding moments of their work is witnessing the kids express themselves for others to see.

"I have seen this young girl go from having very short hair to being willing to grow her hair out to be a child again," Holloman said. "She just enjoys being able to play before she would just sit. Even in our support group, she just wanted to sit by herself. Now she's playing with the other kids."

On Friday, Voices for Children will be joined by the Ennis Center for Children and Whaley Children's Center as they paint Downtown Flint Blue. The rally starts at 11:30 a.m. on the Genesee County Circuit Courthouse steps.