Meridian Township Holds Second CSC Initiatives Meeting
MERIDIAN TOWNSHIP - It's been four months since Meridian Township issued a public apology to Brianne Randall-Gay for mishandling a 2004 police report she filed against former Michigan State University and Team U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar. Since then, Meridian Township has taken steps towards improving the way it approaches criminal sexual conduct cases, including better training police officers in handling criminal sexual conduct cases, reviewing every criminal sexual conduct case filed between 2000 and 2018 and working with Randall-Gay on a community-wide sexual assault prevention program to educate the community about reporting and preventing sexual assault.
On June 22, 2018, Meridian Township held its second Sexual Assault Prevention Committee meeting. It was open to the public and committee members were present throughout the meeting, including representatives from Haslett Public Schools, Okemos Public Schools, The Firecracker Foundation, Meridian Township Police Department, Meridian Township Board and Randall-Gay.
There was a public comment portion at the beginning of the meeting and Trustee Phil Deschaine said Meridian Township is fortunate that Randall-Gay agreed to work with them on bettering the police department, the Township and combatting sexual assault.
“I just wanted to express wholeheartedly how touched we are that you accepted our apology and you've been willing to work with us,” Deschaine said. “We are deeply fortunate to have you working with us and I think we're going to have a great outcome.”
During the meeting, Randall-Gay and committee members discussed initiatives they plan on implementing in the community to prevent sexual assault, including the distribution of an educational pamphlet.
“It discusses what childhood sexual abuse is, signs of sexual abuse and how to report it,” Randall-Gay said to the committee during the meeting. “It also gives parents information on how to talk to their kids about this and resources for that.”
Randall-Gay said she would like to disperse an electronic copy of the brochure to Meridian Township Residents and have a hard copy available at the Township. She would also like to provide schools with a hard copy of the brochure and an electronic copy should they decide to send the brochure to parents in the school district.
On the bottom of the brochure, Randall-Gay listed resources for victims and families of sexual abuse, including The Firecracker Foundation, which joined the committee in April.
“Firecracker is available,” a representative from the organization said to the committee during the meeting. “We do extensive training on Title IX issues and issues with caretakers and parents on how to respond to sexual abuse. We also are trained to do Darkness to Light trainings for individual groups.”
Darkness to Light is a non-profit organization that gives adults the skills needed to prevent sexual abuse against children. One of the training exercises is Stewards of Children, which Randall-Gay would like to bring to Meridian Township.
“In terms of funding, I am actually going to be covering some of the cost of the funding, and so part of the money that I will be receiving from Meridian Township will actually go towards the cost for the Stewards of Children program,” Randall-Gay said. "It’s important for me to be able to give back to the community and for it not to be a funding issue with this. I want everybody who is interested in doing this program to be able to do so. It’s important for people to do it in order to change the culture. The more people who are educated, the more our culture will change and move towards protecting survivors."
Another topic of discussion was training mandatory reporters to recognize the signs of sexual abuse, especially teachers and other staff working in schools.
Randall-Gay referred to statistics provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which showed that "school personnel identify 52 percent of all identified child abuse cases, two-thirds of teachers do not receive specific training in preventing, recognizing or responding [to] childhood sexual abuse in either their college coursework or as part of their professional development and 24 percent of school personnel have never received any oral or written guidelines on mandated reporter requirements."
This training is free and Randall-Gay said teachers should undergo this training because "It's something that needs to be utilized more."
Meridian Township Police is also working towards combatting sexual assault.
“Everybody in our police department has received sexual assault training and it’s the best way to understand how victims react to sexual assault and how to proceed with those investigations in an effective manner,” said Meridian Township Assistant Police Chief Ken Plaga. “Also, all complaints of sexual assault are not only reviewed by our investigations unit, but the final review is by the Chief of Police, where the Chief makes sure that all avenues and support and investigative resources have been exhausted.”
Randall-Gay said Meridian Township is moving in the right direction since mishandling the 2004 police report she filed against Nassar.
“I think they just have a lot more awareness of the importance of responding appropriately to victims of sexual abuse, and there’s so much more training available to the officers now than there was at that time," Randall-Gay said. "They’ve really put an emphasis on being able to support victims and be able to get them justice."
While the last Sexual Assault Prevention Committee meeting is scheduled for September 21, 2018, Randall-Gay said she hopes this program is a continuous effort.
“After this, I’m hoping that Meridian Township and other communities in the area continue to work on changes.”