As a two-time Olympic gymnast with multiple gold medals under her belt, Aly Raisman is someone girls across the country look up to. And as an advocate for those who have been sexually abused — and someone who has spoken up about her own experience as a survivor of child sexual abuse — she’s become an icon for a much wider audience across the country.
On Tuesday, Raisman spoke at an Eastern Bank in Boston as part of a conversation about how those in the Boston community and beyond can stand up against child sex abuse. Metro caught up with Raisman to hear more about it.
Metro: This obviously isn’t the first time you’ve spoken up about child sexual abuse, but why is it so important to keep this conversation going? Can you detail the aim of your Flip the Switch campaign and how this connects?
Aly Raisman: There are 42 million Americans that are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and 1 in 4 girls and 1 and 6 boys will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. I can’t sit back knowing that children are suffering. I want to help, which is why I’ve partnered with Darkness to Light and launched the #FliptheSwitch campaign. The campaign provides Darkness to Light’s prevention training to anyone, free of charge. Adults are the ones responsible for protecting children. It is my hope that all adults will take Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children training course and get educated to prevent child sexual abuse.
As a survivor of sexual abuse, what’s one of the biggest things that needs to change (within sports or society overall) to help protect people from abuse?
Education. Adults need to be educated on how to protect children, to recognize the warning signs and to properly report abuse immediately. We, as a society, need to stop victim shaming and support survivors when they share their stories.
What does it mean to be Eastern’s newest Partner for Good, and what do you hope to do with that title? How does it feel to see Eastern take on Darkness to Light’s prevention training, and why is that important in the big picture?
Eastern Bank has been incredibly supportive, and I’m so appreciative that they are taking on the Darkness to Light prevention training. As an organization, they recognize the prevalence of child sexual abuse in our society and are taking action to eradicate the problem. Knowing that so many adults and children will be helped is very important to me. While isn’t an easy topic for anyone to discuss, it’s necessary to keep talking about it until we see change. Predators thrive with silence, so we must continue to talk about it so that abusers can no longer get away with hurting others.
Eastern donated $25,000 to Darkness to Light, a national nonprofit advocating for adults to get involved with preventing and destigmatizing child sexual abuse. Pictured here are Eastern Chair and CEO Bob Rivers, Aly, and Darkness to Light CEO Katelyn Brewer. Photo: Greg M. Cooper/Eastern Bank
The #MeToo movement has empowered many survivors to come forward and share their stories. Has that made your advocacy easier? Is there more support for survivors?
To be honest, it has not gotten easier to speak up because I put a lot of pressure on myself to make changes our society so desperately needs. I want to help the current and future generations. No child should ever have to suffer from abuse. I am very fortunate to be in a position in which my voice is being heard, but I also understand the responsibility that comes with it, and I take that very seriously. The #MeToo movement has helped survivors feel less alone, and I want each and every survivor to know that I stand with them and support them.
On the flip side, have you gotten backlash from those who tend to deny sexual assault survivors’ stories since you started her journey as an advocate, and how have you dealt with that?
There are billions of people in this world, it would be impossible to please everyone. Of course, not everyone agrees with me and not everyone cares about sexual abuse. If every single person agreed with me speaking out on sexual abuse, no one would ever say, “Me too.” There are people out there who still victim-shame and ask, ‘What was she wearing?’ or ‘How much did she have to drink?’ when a survivor shares his or her story. That’s why it’s important to continue this conversation — to educate people who think like that. On the other hand, I am grateful for all of the support. The fans have been truly incredible, and I am in awe of their support. Their kind words keep me going on my tougher days.
You’ve always been a role model for young women, but since becoming an advocate, even more so, or perhaps to a wider audience. What do you want to share with both those who look up to you and also those who have experienced abuse?
Everyone is a survivor of something. Be kind to those around you, even just someone passing you on the street because you never know what they are dealing with. Know that you are not alone and there are good people out there who will believe and support you. Your story matters, you know your truth so don’t let anyone take that away from you.