In the weeks following the conviction of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar for sexually abusing scores of underage girls, gold medal Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman has become a vocal and powerful advocate for survivors of sexual assault. On Wednesday, Raisman launched Flip the Switch, a new campaign that teaches adults how to recognize signs that youth athletes are being sexually abused by trainers, doctors, coaches, or other adults.
The Flip the Switch campaign is actually a partnership between Raisman and Darkness to Light, an organization dedicated to combating child sexual abuse. Darkness to Light is a nonprofit that provides training and educational materials to help educate adults on how to protect children and prevent sexual abuse. Raisman told Sports Illustrated that her new initiative is an effort to help solve a "terrible problem."
"To address this terrible problem, we all need to be willing to confront it head-on,” Raisman told SI. “Sexual abuse is something that needs to be discussed openly — especially now — given the challenges our sport is facing, and all adults should become educated as to how to prevent it. Ignoring the issue, in hopes that it goes away, is unacceptable. Athlete safety must be the highest priority."
She also pledged to "personally sign each and every certificate of completion" for the program. Back in 2017, Raisman went public with her own story of being abused by Nassar while a member of USA Gymnastics, becoming one of more than 200 women to speak out against the serial child molester.
Her victim statement during Nassar's sentencing ― just one of dozens of stories told by victims who appeared in court to speak out ― drew a huge amount of attention for its courage and raw emotional power. In fact, it was reprinted in its entirety by The New York Times the day after she delivered it.
Nassar ultimately pleaded guilty to multiple counts of sexually abusing underage girls, as well as to possession of child pornography. He was ultimately sentenced to between 40 and 175 years in prison; at 54 years old, that's an effective life sentence for Nassar. Raisman has subsequently sued the USA Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, claiming that the two organizations "knew or should have known" about Nassar's prevalent abuse.
Raisman's new initiative has drawn public support from other professional athletes, including fellow Olympians Michael Phelps and Gus Kenworthy.
"This is an important issue in every sport, and I encourage all adults to join me in completing this program," Phelps tweeted on Wednesday. "It's so important for sports to be a safe space for kids," Kenworthy similarly tweeted on Wednesday.
It's undeniable that the sexual abuse of children is an enormous problem in society. According to statistics from RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), one in nine girls and one in 53 boys are sexually abused before reaching the age of 18.
Among child sexual assault victims who report their abuse to the police, the overwhelming majority ― 93 percent, according to RAINN's numbers ― are abused by someone they know, whether an acquaintance or a family member. In Raisman's case, as for so many of her fellow gymnasts, she was abused while she was meant to be getting medical care.
In other words, it's undeniably a major societal problem, and one that Raisman clearly feels driven to help improve. If you're interested in completing the program, you can do so by clicking on this link and following the instructions. By using the provided entry code "FLIPTHESWITCH," you'll be able to access the training materials free of charge.