AP NEWS

Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman speaks in Mayfield Heights on sexual abuse awareness, her book and more

September 27, 2018

Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman speaks in Mayfield Heights on sexual abuse awareness, her book and more

MAYFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast, activist and author Aly Raisman spent half the day Wednesday talking to area high school students and adults about topics such as resilience, the need for people to understand one another, and dealing with the sexual abuse she and other Olympians endured while in training.

Raisman, speaking at the National Council of Jewish Women - Cleveland Chapter’s 2018 opening meeting at Executive Caterers at Landerhaven, told of how she at first did not plan to testify in court against Dr. Larry Nassar, the former women’s Olympic team doctor, during his January sexual abuse trial in Michigan.

“Earlier in the week (in January), I wasn’t going to testify,” Raisman recalled for  moderator and Head of School at Laurel School Ann Klotz. “It’s (the subject of abuse) very draining and hard to think about.”

But, Raisman said, she was in her hotel room on Jan. 17 in New York when she saw video of other former gymnasts testifying.

“One of the girls said (to Nassar while testifying), ‘Little girls grow into strong women to destroy your world.’ I just watched that and I called my mom immediately and said I have to be there,” Raisman said.

The next night, she was on a plane to Michigan, writing her speech as she traveled. Her strong testimony of Jan. 19, in which she started, “And now, Larry, it’s your turn to listen to me,” made national news headlines.

“For those 12 to 13 minutes (of testimony), I just blocked everything out. I just realized this was something that was so needed and so important,” Raisman said.

The six-time gold medalist, who captained both the 2012 “Fierce Five” women’s gymnastics team and the 2016 “Final Five” squad -- both gold medal-winning  teams -- said that, while in Michigan, many young women asked to take photos with her.

“I realized I was speaking not just on my behalf, but for so many other people,” she said.

“It is sad that it took hundreds of women to get society to pay attention. But there was definitely a shift (after the trial) where more people were aware of it (sexual abuse).”

Speaking of the time leading up to Nassar’s arrest, Raisman, 24, said she wasn’t sure if she was ready to talk about her ordeal, and didn’t know that the media would get hold of the story. She said that the first complaints about Nassar were lodged in 1997, and that she made her first complaint in July 2015.

“It was very scary, very stressful,” she said. “The FBI took over a full year to interview me, and they’re being investigated. It’s really scary and really shady that the FBI has to be investigated for not handling our situation correctly. If they didn’t handle our situation correctly, imagine all the other things they didn’t handle correctly.”

The Justice Department is investigating the FBI’s handling of sexual abuse allegations made by Olympic women gymnasts.

“For our authorities, women and children being abused is at the bottom of the list of things they (feel they) need to investigate,” Raisman said.

The FBI investigation of the matter, while being worked on, has yet to be completed.

“This was reported in 1997, so I, and many others, should have never met (Nassar),” Raisman said.

In Febraury, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison for sexual abuse.

About 900 people, including 570 NCJW members, packed the party center to hear Raisman. Earlier, during a morning session, Raisman spoke with approximately 300 students from nearly 20 area high schools, including Laurel and University Schools, Gilmour Academy, and Beachwood, Orange, Richmond Heights, Cleveland Heights and Brush high schools.

Raisman, a native of Needham, Mass., said both girls and boys need to be taught early in life about the warning signs of sexual abuse and how to deal with them.

“One in four girls will be abused, and one in six boys,” she said. “Ninety percent of the time it’s with someone the child knows or trusts.”

As for men and the #metoo movement, she gave this advice: “Men, just keep your hands to yourself and respect the women you work with and you’ll be just fine.”

While admitting at one point, “I’m just 24, I’m still learning,” Raisman received applause when she spoke about the need for young people, and people in general, to temper their worst impulses when involved with social media.

“People Tweet nasty things about people when they don’t know that person’s story. It’s important we teach kids to be kind and supportive,” she said.

She also added, “it’s important to have moments when you’re unplugging for a while.”

In her book “Fierce,” which came out in November 2017, Raisman said she avoids being graphic when addressing the topic of sexual abuse.

“I personally don’t like reading something that graphic,” she said. “I want every child and adult to be able to read the book and maybe have a lightbulb go off in their head.”

While listening to her answers, audience members also learned that Raisman meditates, enjoys gardening, has veered toward a more plant-based diet, and likes to cook. About cooking, she said, “I’m not good at it yet, so I’m still trying.”

The NCJW’s Cleveland Chapter invited Raisman to speak at the luncheon as part of its 2018 campaign, “Hear Our Voices.” The organization’s mission is to improve the lives of women, children and families in Greater Cleveland.

AP RADIO
Update hourly