At the 2012 Olympics, McKayla Maroney helped her women's gymnastics team win gold in the team final. Part of the "fierce five," Maroney was just 16 at the time. But while the now 21-year-old has retired from gymnastics, she reentered the public spotlight on Oct. 18. With a post on Twitter, Maroney alleged she was sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar for years. Maroney used the #MeToo hashtag in her tweet, writing that she'd been inspired by the multitude of stories women shared of their own sexual harassment and abuse following explosive allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
In her post, Maroney alleges, "I was molested by Dr. Larry Nassar" who "told me I was receiving 'medically necessary treatment.'" Maroney also claims that Nassar once gave her "a sleeping pill" on a flight to Tokyo, and alleges, "The next thing I know, I was all alone with him in his hotel room getting a 'treatment.' I thought I was going to die that night." She was 15 years old at the time.
Deborah J. Daniels, the ex-prosecutor hired to look into the organizations' policies, did not immediately respond to Bustle's request for comment. USA Gymnastics states it "admires the courage of those, like McKayla Maroney, who have come forward to share their personal experiences with sexual abuse." The organization said it was "outraged and disgusted" by Nassar's actions, and that they are "strengthening and enhancing our polices and procedures regarding abuse," including "expanding our educational efforts to increase awareness of signs to watch for and reporting suspicion of abuse."
Nassar has pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges, though he has not yet been sentenced. Other former teammates of Maroney have accused Nassar of sexual abuse, and he awaits trial on charges that he allegedly assaulted nine female gymnasts, all of whom were minors at the time of the abuse. On those charges, Nassar has pleaded not guilty. Nassar was fired by the USA Gymnastics in July 2015, after the organization learned of the charges.
Maroney is the biggest name in women's gymnastics to publicly come forward about allegations against Nassar, and her Twitter post offers not only personal details about what allegedly happened to her, but also a few suggestions about how to change the culture going forward. In her words, Maroney advises:
"One: Speaking out, and bringing awareness to the abuse that is happening.
Two: People, Institutions, Organizations, especially those in positions of power, etc. need to be held accountable for their inappropriate actions and behavior.
Three: Educate, and prevent, no matter the cost.
Four: Have zero tolerance for abusers and those who protect them."
Maroney going public with her story is a testament to the power of the #MeToo movement. Sophie Gilbert writes at The Atlantic that this particular hashtag fits the Twitter medium to a tee. While most campaigns on Twitter are hoping to catapult attention generated online into "real world" change-making, #MeToo was originally intended solely to "give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem."
To that end, it's difficult to imagine a more effective hashtag. Notably, the original allegations against Harvey Weinstein listed several anonymous sources, and just a handful of famous names. But after those women came forward, a cascade of Hollywood A-listers — including Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow — followed. The latest is Lena Headey, the Game of Thrones actress who plays the murderous, power-hungry Cersei Lannister.
That all of these stars, and tens of thousands of women across the country, felt united and unashamed in the power of solidarity is a sign that perhaps attitudes toward sexual harassment and assault are evolving. For McKayla Maroney, the #MeToo campaign gave her the courage to speak out about her own past — and hopefully it will inspire others to do the same and work for change.