Gymnastics: US Olympic star Aly Raisman opens up about sexual abuse in TV special
26th September 2021

(REUTERS) – Two-time Olympian gymnast and sexual abuse survivor Aly Raisman is sharing her story of resilience and healing in a new television special, Aly Raisman: Darkness To Light.

In the three-hour, two-part special, she recounts her journey to recovery and speaks with various survivors and experts on sexual abuse, including #MeToo founder Tarana Burke.

While she said she found the process of producing the special healing and rewarding, Raisman recalled being physically drained.

“I would be like laying on the couch or just in between interviewing survivors, and I just felt so sick and so tired,” she told Reuters. “I’m trying to navigate how I can prevent from feeling like that, but also recognising if I do feel like that, it’s OK to feel like that.”

Raisman, who won six medals in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, recognises the pitfalls of her current passion.

“It has truly affected my personal life of speaking up about this,” she said.

On Sept 15, Raisman, along with fellow gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols, told a US Senate panel how the FBI’s failures allowed USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar to continue sexually assaulting other girls and young women for more than a year.

Nassar was eventually tried and sentenced in January 2018 to up to 175 years in prison for abusing young female gymnasts who were entrusted to his care.

Raisman, 27, expressed frustration that more has not been done to investigate USA Gymnastics or the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) for covering up Nassar’s abuse for years. She wants a thorough independent probe to hold the sports bodies and FBI accountable.

“It’s scary to think about how many people knew that he was an abuser and didn’t do anything. And that’s what’s really important for people to understand, is that it really took a village to protect a paedophile,” she said.

“Without the answers, we can’t believe in a safer future and we don’t know if there are still people working there or working with other children that covered up our abuse.”

The USOPC issued a statement saying it has implemented reforms after hiring a law firm to conduct an independent investigation.

Six years after first speaking out, Raisman said she is learning to love gymnastics again.

“I basically lived in the gym,” she said. “There were some days I would train up to six to seven hours. I was so exhausted and just put everything I had (into it).

“And so, I also think that some of the people in the sport who really let us down, it was really hard for me to … separate that from my love from gymnastics.”

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Separately, the USOPC says it is dedicated to making sure the joint settlement agreement reached between the organisation, USA Gymnastics and survivors of the Larry Nassar sex-abuse scandal succeeds.

USA Gymnastics and victims of the former national team doctor filed a joint US$425 million (S$575 million) settlement proposal three weeks ago that needs to be approved by survivors and insurers in order for it to move forward as a full settlement.

USOPC chair Susanne Lyons said none of the parties involved in the mediation process are allowed to provide details but made clear where her organisation stands.

“I can just promise you that we are dedicated to helping it succeed so that these survivors can achieve (legal) closure. So I really can’t say a whole lot more about that,” Lyons said on a conference call.

“The insurance companies are engaged in the conversation as are we and we’ll see how that goes.”

Lyons was speaking nine days after the athletes’ senate testimony.


Larry Nassar was sentenced in January 2018 to up to 175 years in prison. PHOTO: AFP

“It’s always very difficult to hear and relive the survivors’ pain, and we all very much were interested in hearing what was said at that hearing last week,” said Lyons.

“We still have tremendous empathy and support for the survivors of the Nassar situation, as you know the mediation continues in trying to reach a settlement.

“We are very much a part of that and very eager to get to closure on that so that these athletes can have some closure and move on with their lives.”

The USOPC hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation and has since implemented reforms, including new leadership and stronger accountability measures in an effort to create a culture free from abuse.

“It’s understandable that athletes would have anger towards the entire system that they believe failed them,” said Lyons.

“We believe that we’ve taken very significant measures over the last three years to try to address athlete safety and to ensure that something like this could ever happen again.”

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