Aly Raisman, right, answers questions about her career and her advocacy efforts for sexual assault during the discussion on March 28, 2019. Raisman answered questions from the moderator as well as pre-selected questions from the audience (Photo by Casey Gannon).
By Casey Gannon
Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman was the featured speaker March 28 at SEE’s second annual Hear the Turtle event. Raisman competed on the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic gymnastic teams. While she may be known for being the first American woman to win the gold medal in the floor exercise, Raisman is using her fame in order to raise awareness for sexual abuse survivors.
Raisman opened her introductory speech by stating the tremendous pressures athletes of her level are under. She worked very hard at a young age in order to build her reputation as an established gymnast.
“When I was younger, I definitely wasn’t the best gymnast,” Raisman said. “With us Olympic athletes, we aren’t always super crazy talented.”
While the expectation to perform well takes a toll on Olympic gymnasts, the aftermath of dealing with sexual assault and abuse is exponentially worse. Raisman was one of the many girls who spoke up against U.S. gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar. Even though Raisman was not the only gymnast to speak against Nassar, it was still extremely difficult for her to share her story.
“I felt that it was the right thing to do,” Raisman said. “It’s something that is so much bigger than myself. It affects so many more people than you realize.”
Raisman is now partnering with “Lifetime” to create a documentary as a platform where sexual abuse survivors can share their stories and spread awareness. Raisman encourages victims of sexual assault to come forward, as hard as it may be, to share their stories in order to prevent it from happening to others.
“I think you’re going to be surprised by how many people around you can relate to you,” Raisman said when responding to a question about the healing that is involved after sexual assault.
The Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct at UMD has a 15-page Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures document students can refer to. The document states that sexual misconduct is large umbrella, and it includes terms like sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence and dating violence.
“Sexual Misconduct will not be tolerated. It corrupts the integrity of the educational process and work environment, and violates the core mission and values of the University,” the report reads.
Freshman journalism major Emily Riley attended the event and she enjoyed how much Raisman explained in detail her efforts to advocate for sexual assault victims.
“It was cool hearing about how she personally is working to kind of change the standard for sexual assault survivors,” Riley said. “I personally did not know what she was doing actively to change that.”
Freshman mathematics major Sean Webb was also in attendance. He shared that he believed the University of Maryland campus has many resources for students affected by sexual assault, but they could be better advertised.
“I think there’s a lot of resources, but I think they could talk about the resources more often,” Webb said.
Webb added that Raisman sharing her story helps students see that she is a real person advocating for everyday issues.
“It’s one thing to watch them on TV or hear their story, it’s another to hear them say it in person and see that they’re human,” Webb said. “They’re one of us.”