Aly Raisman wasn't the only Team USA Olympic gymnast to speak out about the sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of former team doctor Larry Nassar, but she's certainly made herself a prominent figure in the fight to eradicate sexual assault. In a letter Raisman wrote to Nassar before the sentencing, she described her experience in full, detailing all of the effects that it had on her life, her athletic goals, and even her relationships.
"I didn’t get to read my letter in court," wrote Raisman in The Player's Tribune, a new media platform designed to allow athletes to speak directly to their fans. "But I don’t want it to go unread."
Raisman explained that she wanted to read her statement in court before Nassar's sentencing, but the judge did not allow her or any of his other victims to do so. Nassar, however, was able to give a statement apologizing to his victims when he entered a guilty plea to charges of criminal sexual assault.
Along with an intro explaining the situation, Raisman published the letter that she would have read to her abuser. "Realizing that you are a victim of sexual abuse is a horrible feeling," she begins. And then, in 2,000 heart-wrenching words, Raisman speaks directly to anyone who's ever been a victim — or, as Raisman prefers it, a survivor — of sexual abuse. She also explains the repercussions of the sexual abuse to anyone who has been fortunate enough to avoid it.
To start out with, though, Raisman lays out exactly what she means to do with her letter. "I am writing this letter to share some of my story, in hopes that it will help others understand the profound impact Larry’s abuse has had on me," Raisman writes, "How his betrayal of trust has changed me and how his actions years ago continue to affect my daily life."
She love of gymnastics and her desire to make it to the Olympics completely drove her, she says, and Nassar's position as the team doctor put him right at the beginning of that. "Larry, you knew how badly I wanted to be the best I could be, you knew how hard I worked, and that I would do absolutely anything to be on the team," Raisman writes, directly addressing the disgraced team doctor.
As Raisman then goes on to describe, the direct effects of the abuse continue even now that they've stopped physically. She can't feel comfortable at a doctor's office because of his actions, for one thing.
"Even if that doctor is recommended as the best, I am skeptical because I was told you were the best, and you certainly weren’t," she writes.
According to Raisman, this distrust resulting from the abuse that she suffers isn't limited to doctors — it's any man who she runs into when she's alone, and it makes her feel guilty. "I’ll often catch myself being scared that people I meet are like Larry," she writes. "And I hate that. I hate that Larry took away my trust of others." Even now that the #MeToo movement is in full swing, this is probably an effect of sexual harassment that hasn't gotten as much attention.
Raisman doesn't stop there, however. She describes the immense challenge she faced trying to train for the most prestigious stage in the sport, while at the same time dealing with the realization that she had been abused. Anxiety led to sleeplessness, exhaustion led to medication, medication led to a hospitalization — and yet another source of stress. When she finally let herself feel the magnitude of everything that she was suppressing, she says, the sadness fully engulfed her.
"I was exhausted, barely able to do things I loved. I had no energy. I felt sad, anxious and confused. I couldn’t understand how someone could be so evil," Raisman writes.
In order to understand the weight of what Raisman and all of her fellow survivors of sexual abuse are living through — the fractured relationships with friends and family members, the crushing feelings of misplaced guilt and shame, the anger she feels toward her abuser and those who she feels enabled him — you have to read the letter. But most importantly, toward the end she describes why and how she's turning around her experience to help the generation that comes after her. Raisman should never have had to suffer through any of this — but through this letter and the strength of her voice, perhaps she can be an inspiration to other survivors who need those words of support.
"Maybe by speaking out, by sharing my story and the way my daily life continues to be impacted by Larry’s depraved actions," Raisman writes, "I can help other survivors feel less alone, less isolated, and encourage them to speak up and to get help."