Last night at the 2018 ESPY Awards, 140 survivors of Larry Nassar's sexual abuse took the stage and joined hands to receive with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. This is one of the most prestigious awards in sports, and it is given to athletes who "possess strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril, and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost," according to the ESPYS website. It's only fitting, then, that the powerful survivors who came forward about the disgraced USA Gymnastics doctor should be given this honour.
In an emotional video (which you can watch above), survivors spoke about the way that Nassar sexually abused vulnerable athletes under the guise of "treatment" for decades. Taken together, their stories paint a disturbing picture of how a paedophile could get away with abuse of this scale. Then, Sarah Klein, a former gymnast who was abused by Nassar, spoke on behalf of her "sister survivors."
"Make no mistake, we are here on this stage to present an image for the world to see: a portrait of survival, a new vision of courage," Klein said. Klein explained that she was abused 30 years ago, and the United States Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, and Michigan State University all "placed money and medals over the safety of child athletes." It wasn't until Detective Andrea Mumford and chief prosecutor Angela Povilaitis stepped in that Nassar was put away for life, she said.
As a survivor, I am here to say, if we can just give one person the courage to use their voice this is worth it.
Klein, who said she was the first person to be abused by Nassar, spoke about the toll that comes with speaking out about sexual abuse. "Telling our stories of abuse over, and over, and over again in graphic detail is not easy," she said. "We're sacrificing privacy, we're being judged, we're being scrutinised, and it's gruelling and painful. But it's time." She continued, "As a survivor, I am here to say, if we can just give one person the courage to use their voice, this is worth it."
Tiffany Thomas Lopez, a softball player abused by Nassar, spoke next. "There are a lot of conversations in our society that we tiptoe around, like they're something to avoid. I know in my life, I've seen people look that way at two issues extremely personal to me: race and sexual abuse," she said. "Sexual abuse claims victims in every race, showing no discrimination. Just like Arthur Ashe, I stand so very proud. Representing not only minorities, but all of us as humans. The human race."
Finally, Aly Raisman, three-time gold medal Olympic gymnast and outspoken advocate for sexual abuse survivors, listed the years from 1997 to 2016 that survivors spoke up about Nassar's abuse. "All those years we were told, You are wrong. You misunderstood. He's a doctor. It's okay. Don't worry. We've got it covered. Be careful. There are risks involved," she said. "The intention to silence us in favour of money, medal and reputation. But we persisted, and finally someone listened and believed us."
Raisman then thanked Judge Rosemarie Aquilina for giving the survivors the chance to face their abuser and feel heard. In January, during Nassar's sentencing hearing, Judge Aquilina allowed hundreds of survivors to provide impact statements, and ultimately sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing hundreds of women. "You may never meet the hundreds of children you saved, but know that they exist," Raisman said, addressing Judge Aquilina.
We may suffer alone, but we survive together.
"Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this nightmare is that it could've been avoided," Raisman said. "Predators thrive in silence. It is all too common for people to choose to not get involved. Whether you act or do nothing you're shaping the world we live in impacting others. All we needed was one adult to have the integrity to stand between us and Larry Nassar. If just one adult had listened, believed, and acted, the people standing before you on this stage would have never met him."
Raisman ended her speech with a message to survivors: "To all the survivors out there, don't let anyone rewrite your story. Your truth does matter, you matter, and you are not alone. We all face hardships, and if we choose to listen, and choose to act with empathy, we can draw strength from each other. We may suffer alone, but we survive together."
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.