ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Five former patients have alleged that a late University of Michigan physician sexually abused them during exams, the university says, with one accuser saying Dr. Robert E. Anderson's actions over several decades made him a “sexual predator.”
A spokesman acknowledged Wednesday that some university employees were aware of accusations against the doctor prior to a 2018 complaint that led to a police investigation.
“It is our understanding from the police investigation that there were rumors and some indication that U-M staff members were aware of Dr. Anderson’s inappropriate medical exams," said spokesman Rick Fitzgerald.
Robert Julian Stone told The Associated Press that Anderson assaulted him during a medical appointment at the university's health center in 1971. Stone said he alerted university officials last summer, inspired by the national #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct.
Stone was first interviewed by The Detroit News, which began reporting on the allegations before the university announced the investigation. Stone, who is 69, said he contacted the newspaper because he felt “stonewalled” by the university when he sought documentation on the investigation this year.
“Finally, the university has understood that this is something that needs to be addressed in a public fashion,” Stone said Wednesday, hours after the university in Ann Arbor released a statement saying that an outside, independent investigation has been launched into the allegations against Anderson.
The former director of University Health Service was a team physician for various sports at Michigan from 1966 until his retirement in 2003. He was the football team’s physician for three-plus decades, working with coaches such as Bo Shembechler and Lloyd Carr. The National Athletic Trainer’s Association gave Anderson the President’s Challenge Award in 1988.
Anderson was from L’Anse, Michigan, in the state’s Upper Peninsula. He died in 2008. The school said it has set up a hotline for others who have information to come forward.
The revelations echo high-profile sexual abuse allegations made against sports doctors at other North American universities. Hundreds of young women and girls said they were molested by former Michigan State University sports physician Larry Nassar, who was sentenced in January 2018 to up to 175 years in prison in the abuse. About 350 men have sued Ohio State University over their alleged abuse by the late Dr. Richard Strauss at that university decades ago. And it's not the first accusation against a University of Michigan official; Provost Martin Philbert was placed on paid leave in January following accusations of sexual misconduct.
Stone, who is gay, said he worried in the summer of 1971 that he had been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease and needed to see a doctor. He was 20 years old and an undergraduate at the university.
Another friend suggested that he see Anderson because the doctor had been nonjudgmental with other gay students, Stone said.
Stone said the doctor exposed himself during the exam and then used Stone's hand to touch himself.
“I thought he must be a closeted gay man and I tried to excuse the behavior and feel sorry for him,” Stone said. “But that's not what he was. He was a sexual predator, preying on young male students at the University of Michigan.”
Stone said he told the friend who suggested seeing Anderson what had happened. He could not recall the man's name. Stone said he did tell his former partner, who died in 2013, and his husband of the last five years.
He tried to forget it for years. But in 1993, he began to wonder if writing a personal essay about the experience would be helpful and requested his medical records from the university's health system to confirm the details.
The university's statement released Wednesday confirmed multiple reports of sexual misconduct leveled against Anderson in recent years.
The first report came from a former University of Michigan athlete who wrote to Athletic Director Warde Manuel in July 2018 alleging abuse by Anderson during medical exams in the early 1970s, according to the school's statement. Interviews with dozens of other former students uncovered several more people who allege they suffered similar misconduct and unnecessary medical exams during that era as well as at least one incident as late as the 1990s.
"The allegations that were reported are disturbing and very serious," university President Mark Schlissel said in a statement. “We promptly began a police investigation and cooperated fully with the prosecutor's office.”
The News also spoke to two of Anderson's children. Jill Anderson called the allegations “ridiculous," saying her father was “beloved” and “well-respected,” but that she recognized the strength of victims who have spoken out about other abusive doctors.
“I have great appreciation for people speaking up and saying that something is wrong,” she said. “That is not something I would have ever believed of my father.”
Officials say they are making the information public now following a determination Tuesday by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office that no criminal charges would be authorized because Anderson is deceased. The ability to prosecute others for ancillary offenses has been extinguished because of the statute of limitations, officials say.
Dozens of people connected to Nassar, at Michigan State and in other organizations, face prosecution or have lost their jobs in the fallout from the scandal that unfolded around him in recent years.
According to a 2008 story about Anderson's memorial service in student newspaper The Michigan Daily, he established a program to provide free physical exams to high school students while he was a resident at Hurley Medical Center in Flint. John Potbury, deputy chief assistant prosecutor in Genesee County, where Flint is located, said Wednesday that he was not aware of any investigation of Anderson.
Messages seeking comment were left with the Flint Police Department and Hurley.
Schlissel said he had set up a “Compliance Hotline” to help determine who else might have been affected at the school and to get additional information from them.
The outside review is being conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Steptoe & Johnson.
At Ohio State, Strauss was accused of abusing students over nearly two decades beginning in the late 1970s. Since those allegations first arose in 2018, the school says it has learned of more than 1,000 instances of alleged sexual misconduct by the late doctor. At Michigan State, more than 300 victims said Nassar molested them under the guise of treatment for back problems and other injuries. Nassar also worked at USA Gymnastics and also saw athletes who were referred to him. He is serving what are effectively life sentences for child porn possession and sexually assaulting young women and girls.
Karoub reported from Detroit and Foody reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, Larry Lage in Ann Arbor, Reese Dunklin in Dallas and Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show the alleged victims of Richard Strauss have already sued Ohio State, rather than are planning to sue.