PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As January marks Human Trafficking Awareness Month, one man is helping to break the silence of abuse by creating a voice for the voiceless.
Former athlete, John-Michael Lander is the founder of An Athlete’s Silence — helping others identify signs of grooming and abuse through writing, speaking and consulting.
Lander told KOIN 6 News his story began as a young athlete explaining, “as a 14-year-old Olympic-bound athlete, the adults that were trusted in my training, they groomed and trafficked me into silence – causing the most exciting time of my life to be filled with shame and guilt.”
“My story started when I was going to the Junior Olympics and a lawyer found a story in the newspaper and started talking to my mother and groomed my mother — telling her that the only way I was going to go to the Olympics would be through them, a group of professional men who would help support and sponsor my training and traveling,” Lander said.
Lander explained that he wanted to share his story to help others identify abuse and empower them to come forward.
“I really feel a lot of men who have been sexually abused as children do not come forward without the fear of reporting and how hard it is to disclose that and how easy it is to disguise sexual abuse as hazing, initiation and rite of passage,” Lander said. “It wasn’t until later, and I was a teacher at a high school, that a sophomore came in and talked to me and that’s when I started realizing ‘Hey, I have not dealt with my issues.’”
Lander went on to write a book and host a TED Talk where he shared his experience.
“Creating An Athlete’s Silence gave me a chance to hear other athletes who were talking about their issues or were afraid to come forward. And I also became a board member of the Army of Survivors, which is started by the Nassar victims. And so, we started this ability to hear athletes, hear them speak and tell their stories – which the more we tell our stories, the more we help people and people can come forward and get help,” Lander said.
“I want to make sure that everybody understands that the term ‘trafficking’ has a strange, wide range now due to the fact that we are now believing that it’s happening all over the place, anyone can be trafficked at any time and any place,” Lander said. “And parents need to really start following their instincts, asking the tough questions and listening to their children.”