You are most likely familiar with the recent story that unfolded in a courtroom where 156 women spoke up about the sexual abuse they endured at the hands of their team doctor. Some were members of the US Gymnastics team. Others endured his abuse while on the Michigan State University gymnastics team. Each girl thought she was the only one. Each girl kept silent for fear of what he would do in retaliation or what her teammates would think of her. There was no one to trust.
Then one girl, Rachael Denhollander, spoke up and refused to take a ‘stay silent’ answer. Her knees were undoubtedly shaking. Her hands were trembling. Her voice barely above a whisper. Even so, she courageously moved forward and spoke about her story. The moment her words were heard by someone smart enough to listen, her abuser began losing power.
As more and more girls heard her story and that someone was listening, they began to find their voice. They found their strength. They found the courage to raise their hand and say “me too.” In saying those two words, they learned that they were not alone. That other girls, some who stood on the gymnasium floor in competition with them, had experienced the abuse too. At that moment, they realized that the physical battle of a gymnastics competition paled in comparison to the mental and emotional battle they quietly endured at the hands of someone who they should have been able to trust.
They no longer felt alone. They no longer felt shame. They no longer felt the fear of being quiet. It was time to speak up!
Some of those that spoke out in the courtroom are household names. Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Jordyn Wieber captivated our attention during the Olympics. We thought they had it all and were sitting on the top of the world. Little did we know what was taking place behind closed doors in an examination room. Others, like Sterling Riethman, Larissa Boyce and Kaylee Lorince, were not as familiar but they certainly stand out now.
The judge in the case, Honorable Rosemarie Aquilina, stands out because of the words she spoke to the survivors in the courtroom as their stories were shared. She recognized the tremendous amount of strength and courage each girl needed to stand in court, before her abuser, and call him out for his actions.
As each girl spoke, there were harsh words for not only him but others who stood by with the knowledge of what was happening and did nothing. You may think that might be unwarranted because how could someone possibly know what was taking place behind closed doors. You are most likely not an abuse survivor. I’m not trying to step on toes or make you feel bad. I’m just stating a fact.
I am an abuse survivor and there were bystanders in my story. There were visible bruises that could not be easily explained if anyone ever asked. No one ever did. There were hurtful words spoken, or often screamed, in my face that were overheard. There were behaviors exhibited by a young girl that should have been cause for concern but instead were brushed off as ‘disruptive’ or vain attempts for attention. I was labeled the problem child in the family. The bystanders accepted that label and life continued on because it was easier to stay silent in their comfort zone than to stand up and protect me.
I trusted no one. I told no one. Until I became a little girl who grew up, discovered my strength and found my voice.
That is what survivors are doing now. We are speaking up because we feel in our heart that someone will finally listen. We are speaking up because others are no longer looking the other way but rather taking our hand and standing beside us in solidarity. We are speaking up so the little girls inside of us that are damaged, broken and bruised can finally start healing.
Rachael Denhollander asked the courtroom how much a little girl is worth. Kyle Stephens shared that little girls will grow up, find their strength and come back to ruin their abuser’s world. Aly Raisman praised fellow survivors standing with her. She boldly told her abuser that the tables are now turned and they are using their voice to take back their power.
The courtroom sat in stunned silence. The outside world wondered why no one close these girls noticed what was happening. The truth is that people did notice. Some girls told their parents. Some told coaches or other adults they thought they could trust.
No one listened. No one believed. No one asked questions or demanded answers. No one stepped out of their comfort zone to stand up and protect those girls.
Those girls were accused of lying. They watched helplessly as parents, coaches and others chose the side of their abuser instead of fighting for them. They began to think their abuser must be right when he says no one really cares about them.
The viscous cycle of abuse continues until one day when everything stops. We find our strength. We find our courage. We find our voice. We will no longer remain silent just so others that chose to look the other way can feel comfortable with their decision to do so.
From the gymnastics floor to Hollywood to your own neighborhood, survivors are standing up, speaking out and fighting back and trust me, you’re going to want to hear what we have to say whether you like it or not!