The Power Of Aly Raisman’s Voice
By Shari Botwin, LCSW
Every day someone is coming forward with his or her story of being sexually assaulted, abused or harassed by a high profile man in the film industry, government or athletic arena. Media outlets are dedicating hours of time to name the accusers and allow them to tell their stories. Wider society is finally beginning to believe that sexual assault and abuse happen. But people need to understand the fallout of these traumas and why speaking after abuse is so important.
Speaking out after being a victim of any type of abuse can help to save your own life. Aly Raisman’s voice has shown the world the benefits that come from breaking the silence. She spoke about her fear of confronting Nassar in court, but then goes on to tell us she felt an instant connection as she sat with fellow gymnasts who were also abused by Nassar. One of the worst parts of trauma is feeling alone and at fault. Raisman and the “sister survivors,” have found their voices and are holding all those accountable for what happened to them. The perpetrator, the bystanders and the enablers.
Speaking allows abuse “thrivers,” to reclaim their right to live fully. I lived in silence for years during and after my childhood abuse. During the past 20 years I have counseled several patients who came to therapy after feeling tortured by their abusive past for decades. Finding safety and getting away from our abuser is the first step, but then the healing and making sense of what happened needs to take place in a therapeutic or supportive setting. I have been witness to patients coming into therapy feeling hopeless, hating themselves and distrusting others as they suffered in silence.
Recently we are also hearing more about the rage victims feel about living in a culture that allows for behavior like sexual assault to go unnoticed. The power of so many voices screaming out is it forces our society to look at all those involved with the abuse and the enablers who allow these stories to stay hidden. Aly Raisman and many of the other Nassar victims like Kyle Stephens and Rachel Hollendar, are on a mission to hold everyone involved accountable in the Nassar abuse tragedy. They are demanding that sports teams do what they can to protect their athletes. Research tells us that perpetrators of sexual violence will not stop unless they are caught. Alleged accusers like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have dozens of alleged victims. The sooner the secret is out, the less likely more innocent people will be hurt by the same person.
It is heart breaking to listen to the gymnasts involved recount the pain they endured during and after the sexual abuse. Young lives and dreams ruined by someone’s pathology and the ignorance of the sport for not protecting their athletes. But it is not sad at all to hear so many brave people speak out. After some of the Cosby women appeared on Dateline NBC and 20/20 ABC in early 2016 the floodgates opened to bring change. People all over the world began coming out on different forms of social media about their abuse. Less than 2 years later we are hearing stories almost daily about someone being sexually assaulted by a celebrity, coach, mentor, boss or family member. The hope that comes from these stories is many people will be educated and less afraid to tell if something bad happens to them. It is not the speaking that has been the problem, it is that there are still too many people in the world making the choice to act in such hurtful ways. We are at the beginning of a “tipping point,” ending the rape culture. The dialogue needs to continue. The more we speak, the more we are working towards change. That will be life saving for many!
Originally published at www.buzzfeed.com.