By Rachel Mipro, LSU Daily Reveille
BATON ROUGE–Olympic gold medals aren’t enough to keep gymnast and activist Aly Raisman silent on the issue of sexual assault, and she spoke at LSU Wednesday night about how it can affect even the most successful women.
Raisman is a two-time Olympian, writer and model who advocates for a complete overhaul in gymnastics sports culture. But what seems to have the greatest impact is her most recent title: survivor.
Raisman opened up about her experiences with former USA Gymnastics team doctor and convicted serial child molester Larry Nassar — a man who preyed on her and more than 150 other girls for years undetected — to a crowd at LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Nassar was convicted by multiple courts earlier in the year to spend the rest of his life in prison after he was found guilty of numerous accounts of sexual assault of minors and earlier counts of child pornography. Raisman said Nassar took thousands of pictures of her and others during practice, gave the gymnasts gifts, and his position as a doctor normalized actions that otherwise would have been glaring warning signs.
“People don’t understand there’s a culture in the sport that created a monster,” Raisman said about the Olympic Committee’s lack of involvement. “So many people didn’t do anything, and there were so many red flags.”
She emphasized the importance of educating others to prevent abusers like Nassar, calling for a much-needed culture change within the gymnastics community. Raisman said someone who still works for USA Gymnastics told her “winning makes a lot of bad things OK.”
“I think that it’s important to recognize that this #MeToo movement is not just in Hollywood, it’s not just in gymnastics, it’s not just in other sports,” Raisman said. “It’s everywhere, including colleges. I’m not going to sit here and pretend, nor should anyone else, that sexual assault is not a very big problem on these campuses. It’s not something that’s talked about enough.”
Raisman said she still faces people who think she shouldn’t be allowed to complain about her abuse because of her gold medals. “Just because you are winning does not make abuse OK,” she said.
Raisman was hosted by LSU’s chapter of Delta Gamma, as part of its Lectureship in Values and Ethics program, and was free for all students. This event took place the same day Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s office declared April 11 Baton Rouge’s Sexual Assault Awareness Day. Pamphlets at the entrance of the event featured programs helping victims of abuse like S.T.A.R.R. and the Lighthouse Program.
The event highlighted the importance of advocating for awareness and change, and the importance of keeping these issues in the public eye. DG chapter president Anna Devall said the sorority wanted Raisman as a speaker because of her influence as a positive role model.
“We chose Aly because we thought she was a relevant young woman in today’s society,” Devall said. “She’s gone through a lot of struggle and overcame a lot of obstacles, and has come out the other side much stronger. We thought she could give an inspiring and enlightening message to the LSU and Baton Rouge community.”
Raisman emphasized how hard and tiring it was to keep continually discussing sexual harassment and abuse. She discussed the importance of self-care, having a support network and her time away from social media as coping mechanisms. Details such as how she said she hasn’t worked out in a month and her tips for looking into a mirror to practice self-love seemed to resonate deeply with her audience.
St. Mary’s Dominican High School junior Annie Alexander attended the event with her mom and noted how important these lessons are.
“She taught me a lot of warning signs. And how to talk to others about it, and how to talk to my friends about it, if they ever need to come to someone,” Alexander said. Her mom, Katey, added, “I think she did an awesome job of making everyone understand how important this issue is and that we all need to speak up about it.”
Raisman emphasized her hope for a change in the way women are viewed. She wants her legacy to be one of lasting social change.
“I think that we have so much pressure as women and we’re always wondering if we look the right way, if we’re talking the right way,” Raisman said. “There are so many people out there that don’t understand what abuse is, so I would like to be able to educate people, and I hope that one day that I also change sports forever, where it is a healthier environment, and people are not abused as much as they are now.”