On Wednesday, gold medal-winning Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman stood on stage with 141 of her “sister survivors” as they accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards. Raisman said, “We may suffer alone, but we survive together,” as the survivors stood in solidarity for the hundreds of women sexually abused by their former athletic doctor Larry Nassar.
The award recipients were announced by Jennifer Garner, who said:
Even if the story we are about to tell you is going to be hard to hear, we all have to hear it. We have to hear it, for one, to make sure that what happened at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics never happens again. “But we also have to hear it because the massive chorus of voices that have emerged from incredible darkness over the last year are demanding it, with remarkable poise, unimaginable strength and unbelievable courage.
The nation's biggest sports stars gave the women a standing ovation as they entered and filled the stage. After the survivor's powerful entrance, Raisman, Sarah Klein and Tiffany Thomas Lopez spoke for the survivor sisters, delivering a powerful message.
Klein identified herself as Nassar's first victim from “30 years ago.” She began by thanking detective Andrea Munford and state prosecutor Angela Povilatis. She went on to say:
Speaking up and speaking out is not easy. Telling our stories of abuse over and over and over again, in graphic detail, is not easy. We're sacrificing privacy, we're being judged and scrutinized, and it's grueling, and it's painful, but it is time. As a mother, I am here to say that we must start caring about children's safety more than we care about adults' reputations.
Lopez spoke to the importance of a discussing uncomfortable topics in American society. She said, “There are a lot of conversations in our society that we tiptoe around as if 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. Sexual abuse claims victims come in every race, showing no discrimination.”
Raisman began her portion of the speech by listing the years that athletes reported Nassar's abuse, but were ignored. The dates hung in the air as the crowed remained standing for the women. Raisman continued to say:
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.' The intention? To silence us in favor of money, medals and reputation. But we persisted, and finally someone listened and believed us.
She went on to thank judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who sentenced Nassar to a lifetime in prison, for allowing the survivors to “face our abuser, to speak our truth and feel heard.” She went on to say, “For too long, we were ignored, and you helped us rediscover the power we each possess.” Aquilina stood in the crowd, clapping for the survivors and shedding a tear when Raisman thanked her. Raisman went on to say, “To all the survivors out there, don't let anyone rewrite your story. Your truth does matter, you matter and you are not alone.”
Raisman and 332 women accused Nassar of sexually abusing them. He has been accused of molesting girls, some as young as six years old, by using his position as their doctor to tell them the abuse is part of their treatment. During his trial, Aquilina opened the courtroom to all of the survivors who wished to testify, share their stories or say something to Nassar.
In January, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison by Aquilina. When she declared his sentence, she said, “I just signed your death warrant.”