As much as she cherishes her Olympic medals, Aly Raisman hopes what she’s doing now will have even more meaning.
The captain of the Fierce Five and the Final Five has become an advocate for sexual abuse victims, using her voice and her platform – and, yes, her own experience – to bring light to a problem more widespread than society has been willing to acknowledge.
In her autobiography, Fierce, Raisman said that she, too, was abused by longtime USA Gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar.
“It’s overwhelming, but I feel very proud of my decision,” Raisman said Tuesday in an interview with USA TODAY Sports. “It doesn’t make it easy. I’m still coping with everything. It’s hard to talk about because it’s uncomfortable.”
Nassar was USA Gymnastics’ team physician for nearly 20 years, beginning in 1996. USA Gymnastics fired him in the summer of 2015, but the federation waited five weeks before alerting the FBI.
According to the Lansing State Journal, which is part of the USA TODAY Network, more than 140 women have alleged sexual abuse by Nassar, under the guise of medical treatment.
Nassar pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges in July, and he faces 22 to 27 years in prison when he’s sentenced Dec. 7. He also faces 33 charges of criminal sexual conduct in Michigan and is expected to plead guilty in separate cases Wednesday and next week.
Raisman doesn’t go into details about the abuse – she hopes her book can be used as a teaching tool – but said it began when she was 15 at a meet in Australia. Though she said Nassar’s treatments always made her uncomfortable, it wasn’t until she met with a USA Gymnastics investigator in July 2015 that she realized Nassar had abused her.
“He was very good at manipulating us,” Raisman said, noting how Nassar would give her and other gymnasts candy and presents, and also commiserated with them on how demanding the sport was.
“I thought he had my back. He seemed to be the person that would stick up for me. That’s also what’s very confusing for me and hard to cope with,” Raisman added. “Someone I trusted so much ended up hurting me and so many other people.”
Raisman has been an outspoken critic of USA Gymnastics’ handling of both Nassar and other abuse complaints. The Indianapolis Star, also part of the USA TODAY Network, has reported more than 360 cases in which gymnasts have accused coaches of sexual transgressions over 20 years.
But abuse occurs everywhere, Raisman said, and society can do a much better job addressing it. Children are taught from a young age to be wary of strangers, but Raisman said they aren’t told that people close to them can hurt them, too, and that they should speak up whenever they’re uncomfortable.
“One of the things I would like to do is create a class where every student, from kindergarten up … is taught that it’s OK to speak up,” Raisman said. “So every year, they’re constantly being reminded that it’s OK to speak up and it’s never OK to feel uncomfortable.”
Raisman also has been outspoken in calling out those who try and put the blame on abuse victims – partly because she has been the target of it.
“Why don’t we teach the abusers just not to do it?” Raisman asked. “There are people out there who are so cruel. That’s why so many people, including myself, are afraid to talk about it.”
But by talking about it, she hopes it will make it easier for others. And, ultimately, help change everyone’s mindset.
“This is bigger than my story,” Raisman said.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.