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Globe Magazine

Aly Raisman isn’t done fighting for sexual assault survivors

The star gymnast from Needham took on USA Gymnastics — and is devoted to erasing the stigma for those who’ve survived abuse.

Aly Raisman had already proven her mettle on the mat in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, leading the “Fierce Five” and “Final Five” women’s gymnastic teams to back-to-back gold medals. (The first earned her a nod, with judoka Kayla Harrison, as 2012 Bostonians of the Year.) In 2018, Raisman emerged as one of the leaders of an even more dauntless squad — the sisterhood of survivors of sexual abuse by team doctor Lawrence G. Nassar.

Raisman, a Needham native, had acknowledged being among the legion of gymnasts Nassar had abused, but her unanticipated appearance at his sentencing hearing in January offered a new “state of the art” for impact statements, as the judge put it. “If over these many years, just one adult listened and had the courage and character to act, this tragedy could have been avoided,” Raisman said in a searing rebuke of the injurious doctor and the culture that had enabled him.

Raisman told Nassar at his sentencing that “I have both power and voice and I am only beginning to just use them.” She marshaled her star power and her characteristic relentlessness this year to demand answers and accountability from USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic Committee. The lawsuit she filed continues to unspool dark revelations about organizational indifference toward abuse of young athletes. An investigation released in December confirmed the USOC did nothing about Nassar for more than a year after learning about his behavior, resulting in the immediate firing of a top USOC official. No surprise that Raisman says people keep asking when she’s going to run for office. The 24-year-old says she is focused on a different campaign.

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To try to avert future tragedies, Raisman has teamed up with Darkness to Light, which helps adults recognize, prevent, and respond to child sexual abuse. She’s picking up the tab for anyone who takes its two-hour online training course, and she’s signing every participant’s certificate of completion. What if that triggers a flood of autograph demands from the newly educated “Stewards of Children” trainees? “That would be a very good problem to have,” Raisman says. Her #FlipTheSwitch campaign with Darkness to Light is aimed at removing the stigma from survivors of sexual abuse and applying it to perpetrators.

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She’s also trying to further empower sexual assault victims. Soon after her testimony, Raisman surprised some by appearing nude in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, her body scrawled with phrases such as “Survivor” and “Women do not have to be modest to be respected.” She also participated in clothing maker Aerie’s Real campaign, which features unretouched photos of women who aren’t built like Victoria’s Secret models. “We live in such a judgmental world. People can be so nasty and so cruel,” she says. “It’s really dangerous when people victim-shame women — and when a woman is wearing a sexy outfit, people sometimes blame them for their sexual assault . . . Abuse is about power and entitlement. It has nothing to do with clothing.”


Stephanie Ebbert is a Boston Globe staff writer. She can be reached at stephanie.ebbert@globe.com.