The door has been opened for victims of sexual abuse in athletics, and six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman is leading the charge.
After the trail of former national gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, Raisman filed a lawsuit against the United States Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics. The suit alleges that the organizations were aware of the sexual abuse Nassar committed against Raisman and other gymnasts in his care. Nassar’s abuse took place over decades, throughout his time with USA Gymnastics and his time at Michigan State University. During his trial, 156 of his victims spoke out against him, including Raisman.
Raisman’s lawsuit is a critical step in holding complicit parties accountable. If the Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics were aware of the abuse Nassar was committing, they are at the root of the sexual violence problem in society.
USA Gymnastics, despite firing Nassar in 2015 and reporting him to the FBI after concern was raised about a medical treatment, made no attempts to stop his employment at Michigan State University or reveal the nature of his dismissal.
The U.S. Olympic Committee has contributed directly and indirectly to the systematic dehumanization of athletes by allowing them to be victimized and abused. Athletes, many just teenagers, have been reduced to commodities, symbols of patriotism and the “American way” with no agency or voice of their own. They have been placed on pedestals, idealized and stripped of individuality. Despite their celebrity status, Olympic athletes, especially young athletes, are often not allowed a platform for their voice.
Raisman is unendingly brave to not only file her lawsuit, but to make bold, unflinching statements against the organizations that allowed and facilitated not just her abuse, but the abuse of hundreds of others just like her. Raisman has taken the first steps into a world of advocacy that could change the fabric of the world that her successors live and compete in.
Raisman is a leader in a great movement to give young people and the victims of those in power a chance to step out of the shadows and into a light where they are heard, believed and allowed to heal from the trauma caused by their abusers and those who protected their abusers.
In a statement on the lawsuit, Raisman said, “I refuse to wait any longer for these organizations to do the right thing. It is my hope that the legal process will hold them accountable and enable the change that is so desperately needed.”
Her fight now, if successful, will allow future generations of athlete’s safety and comfort in their training, which is the least of what they deserve. No lawsuit would be able to make what Raisman suffered right or OK, but her efforts will pave the way to make sure that what happened to her is not repeated in the future.
Nassar was found guilty of all charges brought against him. He faces up to 175 years in prison. But the fight against the system that protected him for so long is just beginning, and brave, incredible young people like Raisman are leading the charge against the people that held so little regard for the safety and well-being of those in their care.