Raisman shows society, athletic community must start believing victimsBy Emily Strickland | 02/01/2018 11:01am
Aly Raisman has always been a personal hero of mine. She is athletic, intelligent, beautiful, strong and an Olympic gold medalist. Her wonderful qualities and accomplishments are seemingly endless, but I hope history remembers her among other Olympic and gymnastic giants because of her bravery.
Last week, Raisman testified at Larry Nassar’s sentencing, delivering a speech that will define the Me Too movement for decades to come. As members of a society that almost religiously champions athletes and their achievements, there is much we can take away from Raisman’s speech.
First, we must recognize the frequency and gravity of sexual assault. Ninety-eight women gave their personal statements against Nassar in court over several days. Some of those women were children under the age of 13 and as young as six when Nassar began molesting them. His despicable actions extended over several years as a professor and gymnastics sponsor at the University of Michigan and as the team doctor for USA Gymnastics, both of whom did nothing about the reported abuse. Olivia Cowan, one of Nassar’s many victims, asserted that she placed USA Gymnastics “in the same category of criminal as I do the criminal standing before us today."
Enablers must be held accountable for what happened to these women. Raisman herself spent the second half of her statement slamming USAG and the United States Olympic Committee for their inaction. We do not know the full extent to which either organization knew about Nassar’s abuse, but we do know that several of the women filed reports before USAG took action in 2015. One woman’s word should have been able to launch an investigation, beginning with her parents and ending with the committee taking direct action long ago. We can no longer afford to wait for things to get worse. Without the proper resources, emotional damages can become irreversible.
Depression and anxiety among survivors is horrifyingly common. Many of these young women, including America’s sweetheart, Simone Biles, have expressed that they have experienced deep emotional trauma at the hands of their abusers and others’ disbelief. We have to learn to listen to survivors with the assumption that their feelings are valid. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that only between 2-8% of reports of sexual assault are false. Nassar’s case has demonstrated the great cost of assuming that a victim is lying when he or she is telling the truth. One unbiased listener could save dozens of people from becoming victims.
Taking sexual assault seriously as a crime means that we have to take a victim’s word seriously just as we would for any other criminal offense. Though evidence may be harder to collect, we have to place value in a victim’s story. The accused’s life will not be ruined if they are not truly at fault. A victim’s life may be if their case is not given the time and full attention that it deserves. There is nothing to lose from complete transparency. Skeptics and critics of the Me Too movement must come to understand that an investigation is not a life sentence. We should all be rooting for justice and truth.
Our heroes are not immune from pain and suffering. We think of American legends as titans of their fields, and cannot imagine a world in which they suffer hardships similar to our own. Sexual assault is not uncommon. Voices like Raisman’s are crucial, especially to young women who aren’t even old enough to fully understand what has happened to them, who think no one understands, who have been told that they are being dramatic or just misunderstanding the situation. Raisman broadcasts a message of hope. Seek justice even if you must fight for it tooth and nail. If those around you will not help you, know that many are beside you in spirit.
Action is always better than reaction. National sports organizations have much to gain from heeding Raisman’s words and combatting these sort of situations in a proactive manner. Raisman says that the USOC and USG’s inaction resonates with her “like being abused all over again.” That is absolutely horrifying. The adults in the room, in every room, must do what adults are supposed to do to protect children. They have fallen short of their duties in this scenario. Learn from their mistakes and speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.
Raisman and the other victims that testified are nothing short of heroes. To bring your deepest personal trauma into the public eye for the sake of justice for others is an incredible sacrifice, and we should continue to honor them with our actions. As for the professional sports community, it is my deepest hope that they take the victims’ words to heart and ensure that this never happens again.
Emily Strickland is a junior majoring in aerospace engineering. Her column runs biweekly.