Dr. Anderson Abused Patients for Nearly 40 Years, U of M Failed to Take Action

U of M

Former University of Michigan (U of M) physician Robert Anderson sexually abused, harassed, and assaulted patients for nearly 40 years, but despite hearing of his misconduct from multiple sources, U of M officials failed to take action, according to an independent investigation conducted by U of M.

U of M investigators found that university officials first heard of Anderson’s misconduct soon after his first day on the job. Still, the physician was left in a position of power to abuse hundreds of patients in the course of his 37-year career at the university. Among those who looked the other way were legendary U of M football coach Bo Schembechler and former athletic director Don Canham.

Anderson’s misconduct included unnecessary and inappropriate genital, prostate, rectal, breast, and pelvic exams. He was known among U of M athletes as “Dr. Anus” for his tendency to perform a rectal exam regardless of the reason for a medical visit. Investigators found that Anderson would regularly perform exams in “grossly inappropriate ways” and subject patients to forceful and/or prolonged exams of the genitalia and prostate, requiring patients to fully disrobe for exams and performing the exams without gloves. Anderson was also known to “trade favors” with his patients, meaning he would write them prescriptions or provide medical exemptions for the draft in exchange for sexually abusing them.

Many athletes reported their encounters with Anderson to U of M officials, including Bo and Canham, but they were either ignored, told to toughen up, or penalized by having their scholarships taken away. For instance, U of M wrestler Tad DeLuca lost his scholarship after reporting Anderson’s abuse to coach Bill Johannesen and assistant coach Cal Jenkins. He appealed this decision to the University’s Board in Control of Intercollegiate Athletics, and his scholarship was reinstated. He believes, however, that the entire board had a copy of his letter detailing Anderson’s abuse; no action was taken against Anderson.

Investigators also found that Anderson exploited his position at U of M to sexually abuse LGBTQ patients. In the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic only exacerbated homophobia and many physicians would not or were hesitant to treat gay men. Anderson welcomed LGBTQ patients into his office, then promptly used his position as a medical professional to sexually abuse them. Many of the patients he abused felt they could not speak out because (1) they did not want to out themselves as part of the LGBTQ community due to the stigma of the 1980s and (2) they felt Anderson was the only physician they could go to for medical treatment.

Numerous survivors have also claimed that Anderson abused them as children. Bo Schembechler’s son, Matt Schembechler is among the many survivors to come forward with such allegations. At a press conference, Matt shared his heartbreaking story of being abused by Anderson at age 10 when he went for a physical exam. When he told his father, Bo said he “didn’t want to hear this,” then punched 10-year-old Matt in the chest. Matt’s mother got Canham to fire Anderson, but Bo soon had Anderson reinstated as team physician in the athletic department.

The above only scratches the surface of Anderson’s sexual misconduct at U of M. Per investigations, it is clear Anderson used his position of power to prey on a wide variety of people: male and female, minor and adult, part of the LGBTQ community and not. To date, about 850 people have alleged that Anderson sexually abused them while under his care.

Over the course of his nearly 40 years as a U of M physician, Anderson held the following positions despite numerous reports of sexual misconduct:

  • Associate physician for University Health Services (UHS), starting in 1966;
  • Director of UHS from 1968 to 1980;
  • Team physician/physician with the athletic department from 1966 to 1999;
  • Various positions from 1966 to 1980 that included clinical instructor with the medical school and lecturer in the Department of Medical Care Organization at the School of Public Health;
  • Series of clinical faculty positions at the medical school until 2003; and
  • Private practice physician in clinics owned by Michigan Medicine from 1995 to 2003.

“[A] number of University students raised concerns at the time, directly or indirectly, about Dr. Anderson,” U of M investigators concluded. “But those who did so represent only a small fraction of the hundreds of patients who have come forward now, who may themselves represent only a fraction of the patients with whom Dr. Anderson engaged in sexual misconduct.”

Fighting for Justice, Accountability, and Closure

At Grewal Law PLLC, we represent survivors who were assaulted during every decade in which Anderson practiced: the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s. If you have been affected, our award-winning attorney team is here for you. Not only will we stand by your side, we will fight tooth and nail to get you answers and compensation. We know full well that nothing can make up for the trauma you went through, but legal action can help you find peace of mind and closure in regards to what happened. That’s why we are committed to advocating for you.

Contact a compassionate Michigan attorney online for a free, completely confidential consultation. We can also be reached at (888) 211-5798.

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