Jewish Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman stood in front of her childhood sexual abuser, a courtroom full of onlookers and the world and delivered a clear message.
“Abusers,” she said. “Your time is up.”
The 23-year-old athlete, who in the past months has become one of the most ferociously outspoken activists against sexual abuse and the organizations that shelter it, gave a victim impact statement on Friday at the sentencing of Larry Nassar. Nassar is the former USA Gymnastics “doctor” who has pleaded guilty to seven charges of criminal sexual misconduct, including using his position for nearly two decades as USA Gymnastics team doctor to sexually abuse young girls under the guise of medical treatment. So far nearly 150 gymnasts have come forward as survivors of Nassar.
The unique sentencing by Ingham County Circuit Judge Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has already lasted over two weeks and has included victim impact statements by over 95 survivors and family members. Madeleine Jones, one of the several survivors who says she attempted suicide several times due to depression stemming from her abuse, said that she didn’t understand at the time why she survived. “Now I understand that I lived because I’m meant to live,” she told Nassar at the sentencing. “I need to be alive to put abusers like you in jail.”
Raisman, whose vehement condemnation of Nassar and USA Gymnastics have been constant over social media and in the press, initially said she would not speak in court but ultimately reached out to prosecutors and asked to speak. Her blistering rebuke of the injustices and pain caused by her abuser and his bureaucratic supporters was nothing short of historic.
“Larry,” Raisman began, looking directly at her abuser. “You do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force, and you are nothing.” Nassar, who submitted a six-page letter to the Judge Aquilina asking permission to avoid hearing the victims testimonies (Aquilina called the letter “mumbo-jumbo,”) sat in the witness box in front of Raisman. “The tables have turned, Larry,” Raisman continued. “I am here to face you, Larry, so you can see that I’ve regained my strength, that I am no longer a victim, I am a survivor,” Raisman stated, defiantly. “You are pathetic to think that anyone would have any sympathy for you,” she said. Raisman spoke about the bitter irony and manipulation implicit in the fact that Nassar, a renowned doctor, was supposed to be healing gymnasts’ pain. “The reality is you caused me a great deal of physical, mental and emotional pain. You never healed me. You took advantage of our passions and our dreams,” said Raisman.
In a testimony that seemed at times therapeutic, at others an act of protest against the current US Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, Raisman — the latest team captain — continued:
Imagine feeling like you have no power and no voice. Well you know what, Larry, I have both power and voice and I am only beginning to just use them. All these brave women have power and we will use our voices make sure you to get what you deserve: A life of suffering spent replaying the words delivered by this powerful army of survivors.
The gymnast went on to direct some of her most ruthless censure to USA Gymnastics. Nassar’s 30 years of abusing children and young girls, Raisman said, could have been avoided “if over these many years just one adult listened and had the courage and character to act.” Nassar rose to the highest levels of USA Gymnastics and visits to him were mandatory, even after many athletes came forward reporting their abuse. “How do you sleep at night?” Raisman asked the many adults who worked to give Nassar continual access to young girls despite knowledge of the accusations against him.
Raisman stressed that USA Gymnastics must be held accountable and must issue “an independent investigation of exactly what happened, what went wrong, and how it can be avoided for the future. Only then,” said Raisman, “can we know what changes are needed.” Raisman took to task new President and CEO of US Olympics Kerry Perry. “Why must the manipulation continue?” she asked, in light of recent misbegotten statements from the organization. Raisman said that Every time survivors were told by Nassar or US Gymnastics officials that they were “mistaken” or “being dramatic” about their abuse, and even now when the organization and the U.S. Olympic Committee stay silent on the issue, “it is like being abused all over again.”
After appealing to the judge for the harshest possible sentence for Nassar, Raisman said this:
My dream is that, one day, everyone will know what the words “Me Too” signify. But they will be educated and able to protect themselves from predators like Larry so that they will never, ever, ever have to say the words “Me Too.”
Aly Raisman: A hero many times over.
Jenny Singer is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny