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#childsafetytips | Aly Raisman on Healing from Sexual Abuse | #parenting | #parenting | #kids


Many sexual assault victims will tell you that healing, and just being a survivor, is a full-time job. That’s quite literally the case for Aly Raisman. The gymnast and Olympian has made it her mission to raise awareness of childhood sexual assault. After revealing she had been sexually abused by Larry Nassar, who worked as the women’s gymnastics national team doctor, in 2017, she aided in his takedown. In 2018, days after she and other brave gymnasts recalled their experiences with Nassar to a courtroom, he was sentenced to 175 years in prison for seven counts of sexual assault of minors (he was also sentenced to 60 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges).

Since then, Raisman has retired from gymnastics and has worked on numerous campaigns to educate people about childhood sexual assault. Most recently, she partnered with the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center on their Fight Child Abuse campaign, which launched in Dec. 2020. Raisman, 26, headlined the campaign, sharing her own story as part of a virtual video series designed to be used by parents, teachers and other caregivers to help children understand what abuse is and what to do if they encounter it.

At the same time, she’s still healing from her own sexual assault and facing daily triggers outside the office. Around the time the campaign launched, the investigation of former U.S. Olympics gymnastics coach John Geddert unfolded. He was charged with crimes including sexual assault and human trafficking and committed suicide in February 2021. “Although the work is super important and something I’m super passionate about, it’s very triggering,” Raisman tells Parade.com. “It’s not something I talk about or do work on every single day. It’s something that’s a very big part of my life now but I definitely have to have balance in my life because being a survivor is very triggering.”

This isn’t the kind of work where she can leave her emotions at the door or disconnect from how it affects her. This isn’t something she’ll ever become numb to. But that’s not going to stop her from continuing this work. “I think for me it’s really important to be able to take what happened and be able to learn from it and grow from it and try to help other people,” she says. “Even if there is one kid that comes forward because of this or maybe one child sees something else happen to someone else and saves someone else from being abused, it’s hard to put into words how important that is.” She uses her experience to inspire her activism. “When I’m doing these things or recording this stuff in the studio, I’m thinking about the kids that are going to be watching this and I think about things I wish I had when I was younger or had access to when I was younger. And it’s definitely healing for me to think about, maybe some kid will be spared from abuse because they will be able to stop the grooming immediately and they’ll have the confidence to trust how they’re feeling and trust that what they feel is right,” she says. “So that’s been really powerful for me.”

Keep reading for Raisman’s tips on educating your children about sexual assault and how she copes with daily triggers.

To start, I just want to ask how you’re doing. Obviously, it’s not new to you, but the John Geddert stories recently bubbled up on a public level. How are you coping with seeing these stories in the news all the time again?

The way a survivor heals is often linked to how their abuse is handled so it’s been really disappointing and really hard to watch USA Gymnastics continue to sweep things under the rug. There have been so many different men that I was around and other athletes were around that were charged or arrested and it’s really discouraging and it’s devastating that we live in a world where child abuse isn’t more of a priority for people. People often prioritize money and reputation and in our case also medals over the well-being and safety of children. So it’s very disappointing. But I’ve been fighting this battle with USA Gymnastics for almost six years and it seems like it’s not close to being over, so it’s been really exhausting and really triggering. And it’s something that I really try not to talk about or think about every single day. It’s unfortunate that we live in a world where the system just isn’t good for survivors. A survivor having to go through what they went through and then having to sometimes spend years and years trying to get accountability and make sure other people are safe. It’s really discouraging and it makes me sad.

And fighting that battle so publicly adds a whole other layer of trauma, I’m sure.

Ours is very public and it makes me sad that even with so much publicity, people still aren’t doing the right things. I often think about the young boy or the young girl out there that no one is listening to, that’s my motivation to keep going, because it’s hard. It’s hard to get people to care and to get people to listen. We’ve obviously had so much support from the public and we’re so grateful for that. But we’re really looking for that one adult, someone who’s really gonna do the right thing and make sure people are held accountable and make sure there’s a proper investigation to figure out what happened.

I’ve done research on how the bonds between victims of the same assailant can help the healing process. Did you experience that?

Having the support of other survivors and being able to connect with them, it’s kind of this unspoken bond. I’m very, very grateful to have those friendships, and unfortunately, I know a lot of survivors, but the positive of such a horrible thing is that I think we have a deeper connection and a deeper understanding for each other and so it’s nice to feel understood and supported.

Related: Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe on the Sensitive Handling of Sexual Assault in the Season 5 Finale

What has it been like recently with the John Geddert news, do you try to stay in touch more during times like these?

It depends on where everyone is. Healing isn’t one size fits all. We definitely do reach out to each other but there are certain times where the survivor or even myself, we’ll say, “I just can’t talk about this right now” or “I’ll talk about it with you in a few days.” Some of the survivors I knew that he coached or spent a lot of time with, we reached out to each other and chatted but I think everyone takes things really differently and it depends on how well a survivor knew the abuser and with that, it needs to be handled with a lot of sensitivity. Other survivors are triggered without even knowing the coach but just the fact that USA Gymnastics is in the news again. It just depends and I try to take every single situation as it comes. Just as you don’t treat all your friends the same way because everyone is different, it’s the same thing with meeting people where they’re at. We communicate with each other and recognize that we don’t always want to talk about it. If I want to ask a question or say something about something I saw on the news, I’ll say, “I saw something on the news, are you in a place where you can talk about it, or do you not want to talk about it?” And honestly, my mom does the same thing for me because it’s such a jarring thing to spring up on someone. So if there’s something like an article that my mom saw and she feels I should know about she’ll say, “is this a good time to bring this up?” Just because these things are so triggering and I’m not reading every single article that comes out about USA Gymnastics. Even though we’re grateful for the support, sometimes it can be really triggering.

There are a few passages from your book that stick out to me in relation to your work to educate people about childhood sexual abuse. You felt as a teen, who were you to question his medical training. What do you want kids to know to prevent them from feeling that same way? 

It’s really important that the adults around children are educated as well. Because if the adults aren’t educated, how can we expect the kids to understand or recognize what’s going on?

But I think it’s important to teach kids, if they’re confused, it’s OK to ask questions, in fact, it’s really important. I look back and I wish I had asked more questions, and I wish I had been educated. I think it can be really easy without even realizing it [to be influenced by] emotions or fear about somebody getting in trouble, or that they’re gonna be mad at you or maybe someone won’t believe you. I think it’s really important to teach kids, it’s about rules as well, because for me for example, if you get the emotion behind it of worrying or starting to second guess yourself, it can be easier to talk yourself out of what’s happening and make it seem like it’s not as bad. So I wish when I was younger I really understood what’s right and wrong, even if it’s a doctor, even if it’s someone that you trust. And I think it’s really important for kids to learn that it can be a stranger, but more times than not, it will be with a trusted adult and that could be anyone, it could look like anyone, it could be a female, and that’s not talked about enough either.

So it’s definitely a balance of talking to kids and not scaring them, but making sure they have the tools to be confident to trust themselves if they feel something’s not right, even just to ask a question or say something to someone. It’s really a societal problem where the adults need to be educated as well. People need to learn that when survivors share their stories, it’s really important that they’re supported and believed.

Related: After Releasing Her Memoir, Jessica Simpson Is Still Coping as She Continues Looking for ‘the Beauty on the Other Side’

You also wrote you were terrified your abuse would be brought to light before you were ready to talk about it. What would you say to young kids who aren’t ready to talk about it but feel off about something they’re experiencing?

It’s not one size fits all and I think it’s important to be kind to ourselves. But I think it’s important that we teach these kids to come forward at a time that feels right for them. But also something that affects that “timing” is the fear of not being believed and the fear of getting in trouble. So that’s an adult problem; we have to create a world where kids don’t feel scared coming forward. It’s really backward to live in a world where survivors feel afraid to share their stories when they’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. So I think it’s important to have conversations with kids. It’s such a complicated thing and every situation looks so different but it’s important to treat every situation with a lot of compassion and empathy and just be there for the kid or survivor coming forward.

What other tips would you give parents?

What I personally feel is really important is that people change the perception of the way survivors are looked at. I think a lot of times people think people are making it up. I think people need to understand how hard it is to come forward because of the fear of not being believed.

I think it’s important for any adult to let their kid know, it’s a safe place to ask questions and that if something happens, they won’t get in trouble.

What’s it like to have your trauma woven into your work? Does the work ever get to be too triggering?

It’s something that, it depends on where I am. I think being so public about it, there are moments where I definitely feel triggered, more often than I would if I weren’t public about it. It’s a very big part of my life now but I definitely have to have balance my life because being a survivor is very triggering and my story is different than someone else’s experience. So I put a lot of thought into how I can help make a positive difference, how to inform people. When we were working to put together the script for the Fight Child Abuse campaign, I was thinking a lot about my experience and my friends’ experiences but also thinking about how it’s not one size fits all and there are so many different scenarios and experiences. That’s always a challenge, to make sure I’m using my experience to help me but making sure that I’m leaving a lot of space for other educational moments that may not have anything to do with me. That’s why I try to learn a lot and educate myself and get as much info as possible, so I can better share that with other people. It’s definitely something that’s very triggering but it’s important and it’s something that’s very meaningful to me.

Next, get tips on talking to your kids about Black history. 



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