“Keep your hands to yourself.”
Gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic gymnastics champion Aly Raisman says, “The world would be different if from the time kids learn to speak, they were given the education of how to be kind to each other and told to keep your hands to yourself.”
Raisman told a crowd of 2,000 at the recent Chicago Foundation For Women annual luncheon, “I didn’t know that was so hard to understand, but it is.”
An advocate for eradicating sexual abuse in youth sports and for systemic change in gymnastics and all sports, Raisman, 24, testified in the trial earlier this year of Dr. Larry Nassar, who worked for U.S. Olympics and USA Gymnastics. He was sentenced up to 175 years in prison after more than 150 women came forward to say he had sexually assaulted them over more than 20 years.
“Your victim statement was a game changer by every measure,” said Heidi Stevens, Chicago Tribune columnist who interviewed Raisman on stage for the “Truth + Dare” event.
“This is so much bigger than myself and gymnastics,” says Raisman, who is a leader in the #MeToo movement, and involved with Darkness To Light, a non-profit educating adults on how to protect children from sexual abuse.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. According to the center, 91 percent of victims of rape and sexual assault are female, and nine percent are male. In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the perpetrator.
For Raisman and so many others, it was the team doctor.
“There is sexual abuse in swimming, figure skating” and other sports, says Raisman, who is retired from the sport she began participating in as an 8-year-old and she has earned six Olympic medals in competition. “It is alarming how many people know about it and say nothing.”
At the recent ESPY awards, Raisman stood with 140 of her “sister survivor” athletes on stage to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
“Led by Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, former Michigan State softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez and Sarah Klein, who said she was Nassar’s first victim 30 years ago, 141 survivors filled the stage at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles to accept the award,” according to USA Today.
The visual was a stunning reminder of the power to speak the truth.
“When someone comes forward, do not assume they are making it up,” Raisman advises. “We have all been through something. And if you can’t relate to someone else’s story, then still be kind.”
This is timely and timeless as the country is divided over the allegations from Dr. Christine Blassey Ford stemming from an incident 35 years ago when she was allegedly assaulted as a teenager by now Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. As Raisman can attest, the credibility of sexual assault survivors is again and still a prominent national discussion. Protests, walkouts and marches surround the hashtags, #IBelieveChristine and #IBelieveChristineBlaseyFord. Another growing hashtag on social media is #WhyIDidntReport.The credibility of sexual assault survivors must be a part of the national discussion. Protests, walkouts & marches surround the hashtags, #IBelieveChristine, #IBelieveChristineBlaseyFord & #WhyIDidntReport. Click To Tweet
Raisman is devoted to promoting education around the issues of sexual abuse, so that misinformation does not continue to drive the conversations.
The first American woman to win a gold medal in the floor exercise, Raisman was captain of the 2012 and 2016 women’s gymnastic teams at the Olympics, and is now retired. She first came forward about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Nassar in 2015, but she had suffered abuse for years, since she was 13 years old.
“People need to be educated that you don’t come forward right away. Some people feel comfortable coming forward that day, some in five years, some never come forward,” says Raisman, author of the memoir, Fierce: How Competing For Myself Changed Everything.
“Raisman’s victim impact statement, which was met with applause in the courtroom, is widely credited with crystallizing the weight of Nassar’s crimes for the viewing public. The New York Times devoted a full page to reprinting it,” Stevens writes in the Chicago Tribune.@Aly_Raisman is devoted to promoting education around the issues of sexual abuse, so that misinformation does not continue to drive the conversations. @ChiFdn4Women #womenleaders Click To Tweet
“I had been groomed and I believed my abuser was my friend,” says Raisman, who is the oldest of four in her family. “I never imagined a doctor would do something so horrific.”
She says the reaction to protect the abuser rather than believe the accuser is the more common reaction. “Why did they fight so hard to protect him, when they could put him in jail and just gotten another doctor?”
Raisman says she was raised with the idea of “stranger danger” so she never took chances walking alone at night or talking to someone she didn’t know or trust.
Recently women who were gymnasts in 1997 came forward, as have more of her teammates.”It’s horrible to be abused and imagine then people not supporting you,” says Raisman. “It’s bizarre to me that someone will stick up for an abuser.”
Education on the tactics of abusers and the prevalence of abuse, as well as how to respectfully treat others may help lessen the number of incidents of assault and abuse, Raisman says.@Aly_Raisman, an advocate for eradicating #sexualabuse in sports, says education on the tactics of abusers and the prevalence of abuse, as well as how to respectfully treat others may help lessen incidents of assault & abuse. Click To Tweet
“People in positions of power don’t do the right thing,” Raisman says. “In our world, women and girls being abused is at the bottom” of the priority list.
K. Sujata, president and CEO of Chicago Foundation for Women, says, “There is a constant drumbeat of threats to our rights, values and truths. It can be overwhelming.” Applauding Raisman’s daring to speak out, she says, “Any meaningful change begins with the act of daring, large or small.”
Working as an advocate for survivors, education on abuse and positive body images for girls and women Reisman says the climate of social media can also be damaging and distracting.
“We have to teach kids that selfie is not important to your education and that having Instagram followers is not important,” she says.
Speaking up, using your voice to tell the truth and to be supportive, respectful and kind to others is important, Raisman says.
“If you are going through something, talk to a therapist, talk to someone or write in your journal. If that someone you tell does not listen, keep going. Value yourself and pay attention.’
She adds, “Find your voice. There are people who will support you.”