Aly Raisman is a survivor. Recently, the Olympic gymnast came out about how she was sexually abused by the team doctor, Larry Nassar, who worked on the women’s gymnastics team for years. She revealed the allegations in an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” as well as in her new book, “Fierce.” As of now, Nassar is sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges.
Most recently, Raisman wrote an essay on surviving trauma at The Players’ Tribune — and it’s extremely powerful. All survivors and women should read this, especially young girls who are still learning about consent and empowerment. Raisman, who reported the abuse to the FBI after competing at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero in 2016, is done with men getting away with violence, whether emotional or physical.
She started the essay out without missing a beat, saying everyone “is a survivor of something,” and then goes on to say how she’s “chosen to open up about my experience because I want change.” What I love most about the essay, and what can truly help young girls understand consent and abuse, is this simple sentiment, which emphasizes that abuse should never be excused, and victim shaming helps no one:
I also want people to understand that abuse is never O.K. One person is too many and one time is too often. We must protect the survivors and people who are suffering in silence. We must support those who come forward, whether it is today, tomorrow, in three months, one year from now, 10 years from now. Whenever it is, everyone must show support. Victim shaming must stop. There are those who ask tough questions. Why didn’t you speak up? Why are you just speaking now? Are you nervous this will define you? To them I ask that they consider how complicated it is to deal with abuse.
Abusers are often master manipulators and make their survivors feel confused and guilty for thinking badly of their abusers. And the abusers also often make everyone around them stand up for them, leaving the survivor afraid that no one will believe them. That needs to stop. Those who look the other way must stop and help protect those being hurt. Abusers must never be protected.
Raisman aptly pointed out how Nassar responded in court after he pled guilty to sexual assault charges, illustrating just how much we, as a society, still don’t understand who is truly the survivor and victim (hint: not the abuser):
‘For all those involved, [I’m] so horribly sorry. This was like a match that turned into a forest fire, out of control. And I pray the rosary everyday for forgiveness. I want them to heal. I want this community to heal. I have no animosity. I just want healing. It’s time.’
He abused so many over the span of decades and he’s sorry that things got out of control? And he holds no animosity? Does he think he is the victim?
One important detail that shouldn’t be missed in Raisman’s piece is the fact that she chooses to identify not as a victim, but as a survivor. As a survivor myself, I have always chosen “survivor” as an identifying term because it allows me, and others, to take back their power. To not be defined solely by their trauma and pain.
Raisman’s decision to identify this way signifies a monumental moment for women and girls, and survivors of trauma in general; we can stand up to our pain and our abusers and still be powerful. That means everything. She wrote:
I am not a victim. I am a survivor. The abuse does not define me, or anyone else who has been abused. This does not define the millions of those who’ve suffered sexual abuse. They are not victims, either. They are survivors. They are strong, they are brave, they are changing things so the next generation never has to go through what they did.
This is survival.
What is perhaps one of the most harrowing parts of her statement, which she initially wrote to be read at court (and was not able to, to her dismay) is her address to Nassar — an address that makes him take accountability for his abuse of power, trust, and violation of a health professional’s oath:
You promised me that you would heal my injuries. You gave me gifts to make me think you were a good person, to make me believe you were my friend. You were nice so that we would trust you, to make it easier for you to take advantage of so many people, including me. But you lied to me. You lied to all of us.
And because of you, I now have a hard time trusting other people. When I go to the doctor, especially a male doctor, I am scared and uncomfortable.
Despite my best efforts to regain control, I still have my triggers.
Being triggered, and dealing with trauma, will never go away completely. While every person who has dealt with trauma finds ways to cope and heal, the memories never completely go away, nor does the way our minds and bodies react and deal with that trauma.
Sexual assault and harassment changes us forever, hardens our hearts and minds, makes our eyes less bright. We can recover, as Raisman is in the process of doing, but working to prevent this kind of pain will save millions of people from abuse that should never have to happen in the first place.