Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman speaks about sexual abuse at Monroe event
Two-time Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman spoke about the importance of believing survivors Tuesday at the annual Speaking of Women luncheon in Monroe.
At age 25, Raisman has hit gold with many of her achievements.
She has won six Olympic medals, including three gold at the 2012 and 2016 games. Raisman also published a memoir and partnered with Aerie’s body positive modeling campaign; but it was her strength that saw her through the trauma of sexual abuse she says she suffered at the hands of USA Gymnastic’s doctor, Larry Nassar.
“It is so important to support survivors when they come forward,” Raisman told the hundreds gathered at the Center for Family Justice’s luncheon. She went on to say that she felt law enforcement “let us down” in 1997 when the first of Nassar’s victims spoke out against him.
During the course of Nassar’s trial, more than 400 athletes came forward and identified him as their abuser. In January 2018, Raisman and more than 140 other survivors spoke at Nassar’s sentencing, with Raisman delivering a blistering 13 minute speech.
“The effects of your actions are far reaching. Abuse goes way beyond the moment, often haunting survivors for the rest of their lives, making it difficult to trust and impacting their relationships,” she said then. “It is all the more devastating when such abuse comes at the hands of such a highly regarded doctor, since it leaves survivors questioning the organizations and even the medical profession itself upon which so many rely. Imagine feeling like you have no power and no voice. Well you know what, Larry? I have both power and voice and I am only beginning to just use them.”
Like Raisman, the CFJ works to raise awareness about sexual abuse, but they also provide programs and support for victims of domestic and sexual violence and child abuse in Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull.
“As we continue to have important conversations in our culture about the prevalence of domestic and sexual abuse, we believe Aly will bring an important message to our audience about our efforts to prevent abuse which will inspire those who support our mission of bringing hope into the lives of victims and survivors as they recover and heal,” said Debra A. Greenwood, CFJ’s president & CEO.
During her Q&A session with Anna Zapp, a radio host with Star 99.9, Raisman offered advice to both adults and children when it came to reporting an assault.
“It’s important to teach children that just because somebody is nice to them sometimes it doesn’t mean the bad things are OK,” she said. “It can be anyone, it’s not just the creepy man in the van.”
Raisman also said she thinks adults that work with children need to be educated about the red flags of potential abuse because “people don’t realize how common it is.”
When asked what the hardest aspect of coming forward with her story was, Raisman admitted it’s still difficult for her to deal with.
“I’m still processing it and I think it’s a very vulnerable thing to share,” she said. “It can feel like an open wound that doesn’t heal.”
Raisman said she uses therapy, journaling, mediation and yoga to help her heal, but was quick to note that there isn’t a “map to healing” and that it’s important for survivors to find what works best for them.
“You’re not going to heal overnight and sometimes I feel like I’m on a roller coaster,” she said. “I’ve learned to be OK with where I am in the process.”
Raisman said she often has survivors come up to her and share their stories and that she responds by advising them about where they can go for support. She added that it is up to survivors to decide whether or not to share their story and when they want to share it.
During a conversation about the #MeToo movement, Raisman said when she heard criticism about why someone would wait to share their story she argued it was because “you’re not paying attention.” She went on to say that some people may have come forward before and were told they were wrong.
Raisman said programs like the CFJ’s are incredibly important because “there are survivors without a support system.”
When asked about her experience with victims being blamed for sexual abuse, Raisman said she has experienced it, but believes that this is something all survivors experience.
“I’ve had people say ‘what do expect when you’re wearing a leotard,’” she said. “Clothing is not an excuse for any abuse. It’s not acceptable and it’s not right.”