Lansing, Michigan-based Survivor Strong founder Amanda Thomashow shares how her organization is providing tools for prevention, support, and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault.
Amanda Thomashow finally felt supported by her community. As she exited the courtroom during the final days of litigation against serial rapist and child sex offender Larry Nassar, she saw members of the Firecracker Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing healing services for child abuse survivors. They were holding signs saying “We Believe You.”
“That was the moment that I finally felt cared for. That was the first time that I felt like anybody cared about what we had been through, and I didn’t feel so alone,” Amanda recollects.
It had been four years since Thomashow filed a Title IX complaint against Nassar, who sexually assaulted her during a visit to his medical office for hip pain. Nassar assaulted many other members of the Michigan State University community over a period of many years. Thomashow forged her own path toward healing with the support of her therapist, but there wasn’t any group in the Lansing, Michigan, community to guide her.
“I made it through, but I didn’t make it through because of any of the systems that were in place that were supposed to help me,” she recalls. It was during her healing that she realized the urgent need for a program specifically intended for adult survivors of abuse and sexual assault.
During the Nassar case, Thomashow built rapport with the attorneys involved. One of the attorneys “had been listening to me and he saw my vision.” After the case, he worked with Thomashow to fund an organization to fill the gap. Thus, in 2019 Survivor Strong was established in the Lansing community.
“A lot of times, in the aftermath of trauma people have expectations of what you should do and how your healing and your justice should work. But the thing is, it is different for everyone. There’s not one pathway to healing.”
“I cannot help but feel like because I know better I should do better for this community,” Thomashow says. “I would not be the person I want to be if I just walked away from Lansing knowing that there could very easily be another Amanda Thomashow getting ready to go to MSU and have her life fall to pieces without any support.”
The mission of Survivor Strong encompasses three main focus areas: prevention, support, and advocacy. Each is addressed through presentations to individuals of any age and background, from preschoolers to prosecutors, focusing on all aspects of sexual assault, dating violence, and abuse.
Perhaps most importantly, Survivor Strong offers a safe place for survivors to feel supported in their healing. “A lot of times, in the aftermath of trauma people have expectations of what you should do and how your healing and your justice should work,” Thomashow says. “But the thing is, it is different for everyone. There’s not one pathway to healing.”
She adds: “If we were to just lead by believing instead of leading by questioning, and we created a space in our community where if survivors immediately felt supported by the community, where they felt the feeling I got when I stepped out of the courtroom and saw the signs from the Firecracker Foundation ... that’s how you make a survivor feel safe and that’s how you convince them that what they did was worth it—by actually changing the world that they live in.”