In a uniquely strong statement for a young athlete, Aly Raisman demanded “more accountability” from USA Gymnastics in the wake of a horrific slew of allegations that female gymnasts are being routinely sexually abused with the knowledge of the national gymnastics organization.
“I feel like there’s a lot of articles about it, but nobody has said, ‘This is horrible. This is what we’re doing to change,’” the 23 year-old Olympian told the Associated Press.
USA Gymnastics has quietly launched an internal review into the actions of Larry Nasser, who is being sued for sexual assault by 125 women after serving as the USA team doctor for almost 30 years. After reporting by the Indianapolis Star, the gymnastics organization is also looking into, according to the AP, “chronic mishandling of abuse allegations against coaches and staff at some of its more than 3,500 clubs across the country.” In June, USA Gymnastics adopted the 70 recommendations suggested by Deborah Daniels, the federal prosecutor who reviewed USA Gymnastics in the wake of the accusations.
Raisman says that after the accusations came out she waited for USA Gymnastics to respond, but can see now that the organization is not taking enough action for the women and children who have been abused under the organization’s protection.
”Everyone is important. It doesn’t matter if you’re the Olympic champion or you’re an 8-year-old that goes to gymnastics in Ohio, or wherever you are in the U.S.,” Raisman said. “Every single kid is important and I want USA Gymnastics to do a better job with that.”
The six-time Olympic medalist and two-time captain of the US Olympic team took the opportunity to speak out for victims of sexual abuse as she and the rest of the “Fierce Five” (the women’s US gymnastics team who competed at Rio) were inducted into the the USA Gymnastics hall of fame on Saturday.
What people don’t realize is that this doctor was a doctor for 29 years. Whether or not he did it to a gymnast, they still knew him. Even if he didn’t do it to you, it’s still the trauma and the anxiety of wondering what could have happened. I think that needs to be addressed. These girls, they should be comfortable going to USA Gymnastics and saying: ‘I need help, I want therapy. I need this.’”
In what was an especially unforgiving speech for a celebrity, Raisman criticized not only Nassar and USA Gymnastics, but also steps taken by the organization in accordance with recommendations by Daniels. Raisman, who clearly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to child abuse and sexual assault, condemned the organizations for its lack of strong moral response to the victims.
“It can’t just be about we’re making sure the athletes feel safe now. It has to be going back and apologizing and going to these families and going to all these gymnasts and saying,`’What made you feel unsafe? What can we do for the next generation?’” the gymnast said. “They need to be calling up all of these people that have come forward and say, ‘Can you please help us and tell us what part of it was wrong? What part made you feel unsafe? What could we do differently?’
Raisman also condemned the organization for reportedly offering a $1 million severance package to Steve Penny, who resigned as president of the organization following public pressure.
“A million dollars is a lot of money,” said Raisman. “They could do a lot of things to create change. They could create a program. They could even contact all the families that have come forward and say, ‘Can we help your kid with therapy?’”
Jenny Singer is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny