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Aly Raisman: Mishandling Of Gymnastics Sexual Abuse Adds To The Trauma

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Retired gymnast Aly Raisman is one of the most decorated athletes in the United States - and maybe the world - in a sport that demands no end of strength and stamina. Both of those qualities have been tested in a different way in recent years, as she and other survivors have demanded greater accountability for the sexual abuse committed by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. He is serving what amounts to multiple life sentences for his crimes. But last week, Raisman and other survivors took their fight for accountability to Capitol Hill, where they testified before the Senate about the failures, including those of the FBI, that allowed Nassar to operate with impunity even after his behavior became known to authorities. During the hearing, FBI Director Christopher Wray apologized to the athletes for the bureau's mishandling of the case.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: I'm especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed. And that is inexcusable.

MARTIN: Aly Raisman is with us now to tell us more about this fight. Aly Raisman, thank you so much for talking with us. I imagine this just has to be exhausting.

ALY RAISMAN: Thank you for having me on. You know, this is one of the moments where right now, I'm definitely feeling it. I'm definitely exhausted. But that's what surviving and healing looks like. You know, there are some moments where I feel OK. And then other moments it hits me. You know, the way a survivor heals is linked to how their abuse is handled. So it's definitely - affects me. But I am doing the best that I can. And I'm just grateful that people have been so kind to us.

MARTIN: Your testimony before the Senate was very detailed and very damning. And you talked about the failures just at every level - the Olympic Committee, the USA Gymnastics, law enforcement. It may be hard to sort of parse this, but I'm wondering, of all of the people that you talked about and whose behavior you detailed, which disappoints you the most?

RAISMAN: I think it's hard to pick one person. I think that what I think about and I go back to a lot is that we needed one adult to do the right thing. And that has yet to happen. And there are a lot of people in positions of power that covered up our abuse. And the fact that the FBI and United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the United - and USA Gymnastics, there was an interplay among all three that worked to cover this up is just - it's really sickening. And it's really - it's devastating.

And, you know, I've been struggling for quite some time with the way that the FBI handled my case because it's hard enough to share your experience and what you've been through and the most traumatic thing. And it's terrifying and sickening and triggering and everything you can imagine when you're talking about what you went through to an FBI agent. It's really, really - it's really hard. And to have - and to not feel validated and to feel like your experience is diminished, it's really hard.

And so I think that the other day when we did the testimony, you know, it was one of the first times we felt validated by somebody else, that the FBI was wrong to not validate how we were feeling and that they did mishandle it. And so it's - I think it's really something that's going to take some time to heal from that. But when you share your experience of abuse and people diminish what you go through, I think it does a lot on - it's just not good for your recovery. And it - that's another trauma and injury.

MARTIN: What would make a difference now? You had some specific demands of the Senate when you testified. Would you share a little bit more about what you and other survivors are seeking now?

RAISMAN: Yeah. I think it's really important for there to be a complete and independent investigation of the FBI, United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and USA Gymnastics. And I think there needs to be an understanding of the interplay among all three of them and how they worked together to cover up our abuse. I think without that, we can't believe in a safer future.

You know, there might still be people who covered it up that are in positions of power. And, you know, the issue is when people aren't held accountable for their wrongdoings, they can go out the side door and what's to prevent them from working with someone else and hurting another child or allowing another child to get hurt? And so I think it's really important for us to have those answers. And for the people who do - they do find out that - were enabling or part of the cover up, they need to be held accountable. And, you know, in order for us to actually believe in a safer future and a safer USA Gymnastics, we need to have answers

MARTIN: Before we let you go - I'm sure you and your mom have talked about this in recent years - do you have any advice for parents? I'm sure that there are parents who are listening to our conversation. I know, for example, there are parents of survivors who feel deeply guilty and ashamed that they didn't do more to protect their daughters, they didn't know how. For the next generation of gymnasts, for the next generation of athletes going forward, for their families who want to support them, do you have some advice?

RAISMAN: Yeah. I'm glad you asked that question because when someone goes through a trauma, you know, it's not just myself that has suffered a trauma. You know, it's my mom. It's my dad. It's my siblings. I mean, my mom was at the hearing with me. And I watched the other moms. It's a trauma for them. It's their worst nightmare to see their child have to go through something like that. If you're a parent and one of your kids has been abused, first of all, I'm so sorry. But I also want you to know that it's not your fault.

I can't say enough amazing things about my mom. She's been so supportive to me. And I hope that my parents don't carry guilt because they did the best that they could. And I was, you know, off internationally. And to be honest, I didn't even realize at the time it was happening to me. I was so groomed. I was so manipulated and brainwashed.

And so I really want the parents or anyone out there who's in charge of a child that has been abused just to know that you did the best that you could. Be kind to yourself. And if you do know, you know, now you have the opportunity to be that support system for that child. And being there and supporting them and validating them will go so far beyond, I think, what any of us can ever realize.

MARTIN: That is Aly Raisman. She was captain of both the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Women's Olympic gymnastics teams - gold medalist in team competition in both those events, along with her many, many, many other honors in her sport. Aly Raisman, thank you so much for talking with us and my very best wishes to you and your family for your continued healing and growth.

RAISMAN: Thank you so much. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF 222 SONG, "DREAMER'S CHANT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.