Aly Raisman, an American Olympic gold medalist, has come forward with sexual allegations against the team doctor for USA Gymnastics. Raisman has won six Olympic medals, three of them gold, and was captain of the U.S. team that won the last two Summer Games: London in 2012 and Rio in 2016. She disclosed this information with TIME in an interview and has included it in her new book, Fierce.
The team doctor was Larry Nassar, who worked with the U.S. Women’s National Team and athletes at Michigan State University for more than two decades. Now, 23, Raisman says she received her first treatments from Nassar when she was just 15 years old.
Raisman says Nassar would often come to her hotel rooms at night, unannounced and insisted on giving her massages as a way of treatment. She did not think anything of it and assumed that because Nassar was a professional doctor, this was just protocol. People would always state what an honor it was to have such a prestigious doctor working with the gymnasts, so although Raisman felt strange and uncomfortable about the situation, she remained silent.
The “massages” generally included touching the girls around their pelvic area and vagina, as well as penetration with his bare hands since he rarely used gloves when working with the girls. Raisman says Nassar often closed his eyes and would be out of breath while working on her. She was unaware that she was being molested. At such a young age, these girls barely had the vocabulary to make sense of what was happening to them. She believed she was receiving medical treatment to help with her.
In July 2015, three years after winning three medals at her first Olympics, she says she finally realized Nassar was sexually abusing her. Raisman received a call from USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny, who asked her to speak to an investigator who would be coming to Raisman’s home. He wouldn’t tell her what the visit was about.
Now Raisman says she knows better. “I know people will say ‘Why didn’t she tell her mom? Why didn’t she say anything?’ But those questions are unfair,” she says. “The fact is I didn’t really know it was happening to me. What people don’t get is that he was a doctor. I would never have imagined that a doctor would abuse me or manipulate me so badly.”
Raisman reflects on the doctor’s actions, “He was always, always, always on my side. He was always that person who would stick up for me and make me feel like he had my back. The more I think about it, the more I realize how twisted he was, how he manipulated me to make me think that he had my back when he didn’t.”
The USA Gymnastics issued a statement in response to Raisman, “We are appalled by the conduct of which Larry Nassar is accused, and we are very sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career. In the past year, Aly has become an advocate for many issues, and sharing her personal experience of abuse takes great courage. We are committed to doing what is right, and we want to work with Aly and all interested athletes to keep athletes safe.” In addition to this statement, the organization has instated Safe Sport Policy, which is meant to prevent this kind of abuse. Kerry Perry, a former sports marketing executive, was appointed the new President and CEO of USA Gymnastics beginning December 1st after Steve Penny resigned in March 2017.
Over 130 other women have come forward to share their experiences with Nassar, including McKayla Maroney, 21, Aly’s former teammate. They compared stories, which were all painfully similar. In July, Nassar pleaded guilty to child pornography charges and is currently in a Michigan prison.
It is important to be aware of the dangers young people, especially women, may face when it comes to sexual abuse because of their lack to fully understanding what is happening to them. This was happening to Aly and people she knew, but she did not have the ability to translate what was happening to her into words. Despite this uncomfortable exposure, Aly hopes to compete in her third Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
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