Among the swarm of sexual predators that have recently been exposed by exceedingly brave women is Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor. On December 7 he was sentenced to 60 years in prison on child pornography charges and is expected to get at least another 25 for molestation charges. He was accused of sexual abuse by more than 130 women. According to The New York Times, among those 130 women are at least seven former members of the United States national gymnastics team, including four Olympians.
Janet T. Neff, a federal district judge in Grand Rapids, Michigan, made the decision to impose the back-to-back-to-back 20-year sentences, but she also ruled last week that the women who submitted victim impact statements were not allowed to read them in the courtroom. Thankfully, they found other outlets through which to share their stories, and two-time Olympic team captain Aly Raisman’s statement, which reads over 1,000 words, packs a painful punch.
“I’ve chosen to open up about my experience because I want change,” the story, which was published on The Players’ Tribune, reads. Raisman goes on to say that she faces major psychological hurdles every day as a result of the abuse. “When I have these scary thoughts, I try my best to find things to help me manage my fears. I go for a walk outside. I read a book. I meditate and practice my breathing exercises. I take a hot bath. I draw. I hang out with family and friends. And I remind myself I am in control and that I will be O.K.”
Raisman also reminds people that the effects of sexual abuse, or any abuse for that matter, are not short-term. “Sexual abuse isn’t just in the moment,” she writes. “It is forever. Healing is forever.”
The Olympian also touches on her desire to go to court and read her statement out loud for Dr. Nassar to hear. She writes that she wanted to be there in person to show him she was still standing, but also to tell him directly how his actions impact her life every day. But, after hearing his own statement, she isn’t sure how much even that would have helped.
His statement reads: “For all those involved, [I’m] so horribly sorry. This was like a match that turned into a forest fire, out of control. And I pray the rosary everyday for forgiveness. I want them to heal. I want this community to heal. I have no animosity. I just want healing. It’s time.”
Raisman says she has tried to understand what he’s saying, but can’t. “He abused so many over the span of decades and he’s sorry that things got out of control?” she writes. “And he holds no animosity? Does he think he is the victim?”
Raisman also reveals in the letter that she has suffered health repercussions from dealing with the trauma of her experience. “When I allowed myself to start thinking about what Larry had done, I was overcome by anxiety. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like someone was pushing on my chest and my throat was closing up. I couldn’t sleep well because I would have terrible nightmares. I never felt rested.”
She continues: “Despite my best efforts to regain control, I still have my triggers. My work requires frequent travel, and I feel anxious traveling by myself. I find myself constantly looking around, paranoid and afraid to be alone. When I am at a hotel by myself and I order room service, I worry a male will deliver the food. I’ve had to develop strategies and coping mechanisms. If a male knocks on the door, my heart begins to race. I hold the door open as he drops off the food and keep it open until he leaves. I often wonder if I am hurting their feelings by being so obviously distrusting of them. I always used to give people the benefit of the doubt, but if a decorated doctor who served on the national team for over 30 years turned out to be a monster, then how can I trust anybody? Now, I’ll often catch myself being scared that people I meet are like Larry. And I hate that. I hate that Larry took away my trust of others.”
The letter closes with a plea to the judge: “I hope today you impose the maximum sentence the court allows and I hope people begin to talk about how common and insidious abuse is. Every person we hold accountable for abuse makes a difference. Thank you.”