In late 2011 the Penn State scandal erupted. The scandal cost Joe Paterno his job. It cost me my silence. Only one year earlier my father admitted to molesting my nieces and nephews. As I tried to process the pain of losing my father I was forced to face the pain I endured not only at his hands, but the hands of a neighbor. I cried for hours as I watched my family deal with a new normal. Yet I stayed mostly silent.
That morning I woke to a sports guru commenting how the sanctions against Penn state were unfair. I came out of my bed screaming. The husband tried to calm me down, but my anger was beyond the point of no return. He just stood there bewildered at his wife, who normally hated sports, screaming over a “stupid” comment. That comment unleashed anger that I held inside for 30 years. Still, I didn’t tell him. I turned to my blog and expressed my frustrations. I continued to rant about the scandal until one evening he looked at me and asked, “Why are you so interested in this thing? It’s disgusting.” I took a deep breath and just simply said, “Because I know how that little boy felt.” It took 3 more years to tell him the whole truth, but I decided to never let my children near a coach without my presence.
My daughter dreamed of pursuing a gymnastics career in college so she joined a local team. She loved her coach, who was male and it took everything in me to not worry. In late 2015 rumors of problems within USA Gymnastics began to fly. By this point her coach and the team at the gym had earned my trust. They reassured me the girls were safe and so I relaxed. The summer of 2016 was a VERY exciting time in our house. There was non-stop talk about Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles, especially Gabby who my daughter idolized. We fell in love with Aly, Madison and Laurie. We knew the dedication and hours it took to excel at the sport. We were so very proud of the team. Like the rest of America, we were very unaware of the monster in the room.
I deliberately avoided the recent Larry Nasser gymnastics scandal. I’ve refused to read any articles, listen to the news or have an opinion. I kept my resolve until Sunday when a friend shared a post about the issue. I took a deep breath, clicked the link and read. I read about a doctor who abused the trust given him. Who hurt little girls in horrific ways. I was angry the more I read. How the girls spoke up. Again. And Again. AND AGAIN. And each time, no one did anything. The anger was not as strong as in 2012 but it was there. And so was the ache. The ache I cannot possibly describe. And the sheer gratitude that my daughter chose to walk away from gymnastics in pursuit of her academics after last year’s season.
Yes, my daughter was not exposed to Nasser. Nothing happened to her in the gym where she spent her afternoon and evenings pushing her body to do the most amazing things. She was safe. But others were not. Aly. Gabby. Simone. Those smiles in Rio are so haunting now. Those medals came with a huge cost. A cost no person on this planet should be forced to pay. But it’s not just the Olympic team. There are over a HUNDRED victims. And that is just those who have come forward. The number is staggering. I couldn’t keep away from this story. Which is how I found myself watching the testimonies.
As a survivor it is both empowering and taxing to be an advocate for sexual abuse victims. It means I live with triggers. Although they are getting better and I can avoid most situations or at least prepare myself, I can’t always avoid them. Watching Aly Raisman stand so strong and speak to Larry Nasser was hard. I was so proud of her. But at the same time, I cried because she shouldn’t be there. No one should. I honestly should have stopped at just Aly’s testimony, but I didn’t. I watched more. Story after story. And I told myself I was watching some of the strongest women on the planet. And I reminded myself that I was strong and I didn’t need to feel the emotions. Finally, I had to stop. One can only take depictions of abuse against little girls before they want to vomit.
It’s hard to comprehend. I just can’t understand the way we keep enabling pedophiles to groom and abuse our children. I can’t grasp why this keeps happening. And I REALLY cannot fathom why there are so many incidents over TWENTY years where those in charge SIMPLY DID NOTHING.
2017 unleashed a wave of exposure that is turning into a tsunami. My hope is the wake of these scandals will change the landscape of our society forever. No longer will a little girl be subjected to a doctor to hurting her in guise of “healing” her. No longer will it be acceptable for adult men to prey on little girls without consequences. No longer will those in charge be allowed to remain in charge when they willingly look the other way. No longer will our first response to a young woman speaking up be one of accusation against her but one of support and belief. No longer will victims remain silent.
You can read Aly’s powerful testimony here. “All these brave women have power and we will use our voices to make sure you get what you deserve — a life of suffering spent replaying the words delivered by this powerful army of survivors.” Aly Raisman