When asked “what’s the number one thing bothering you right now?” Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman didn’t hesitate for a moment. The gymnast says we need to talk about “alarming” sexual assault statistics and actively work towards creating a culture where men respect women and discussions about sexual assault aren’t considered taboo.
Raisman told People that opening a dialogue about sexual assault could help prevent future assaults and help women feel safer coming forward.
“The statistics are just alarming, it’s one in four girls are sexually abused, and those are just the girls that speak up and that [statistic] was from a couple of years ago. It’s so alarming and it’s horrible,” Raisman stated.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender Public Website, approximately 18% of women are raped at some point during their lifetime, and only 16% of rapes are reported to law enforcement.
“We also live in a culture where if a girl is wearing a short skirt or she’s wearing a low cut blouse it’s okay for men to rape women, it’s just out of control,” Raisman said. “I can’t tell you how many girls I know that have been sexually abused at some point in their life and it’s so sad.”
The 22-year-old pointed out that victim-blaming patterns begin early — she recalled not being allowed to wear tank tops at school because it was considered “a distraction.” Instead, she believes that schools should focus on educating students about sexual assault and consent. “There needs to be a class that’s valued just as much as math class that teaches boys and girls to respect each other,” Raisman told People.
Even for women who haven’t experienced sexual assault, the prevalence of the crime affects everyday life. Raisman explained that, despite being a very independent person, she’s wary of traveling by herself solely because she’s aware of the dangers.
“I don’t feel safe and I think a lot of women feel the same way,” she said. “It’s just sad that if I want to go for a walk, I can’t go outside unless it’s really light out because I don’t feel safe.”
Raisman also addressed the misconception that some sexual assaults fall into a “gray area,” and therefore they’re dismissed as a misunderstanding rather than a violent crime.
“If a girl doesn’t say ‘yes,’ then it’s not consent,” she said.
“I could talk about this all day, but there needs to be a lot more discussion about it, and it’s a huge problem,” Raisman concluded.