Last Friday, Aly Raisman provided a blistering, no-holds-barred, 12-minute court testimony about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of former USA Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, who has assaulted well over 100 girls and will spend the rest of his life in prison. Her testimony was powerful and riveting, but one line in particular made my breath catch.
“I assumed I was the problem.”
The Aly Raisman court testimony on Friday begs us to start here.
Give it a watch. I’ll wait. But we must start with “I assumed I was the problem.”
Screenshot: YouTube/CBS News
We don’t start with the history that reveals Larry Nassar has been secretly abusing and taking advantage of innocent young women for at least thirty years, or that Aly Raisman was merely thirteen when he began abusing her, the then-future captain of the 2012 and 2016 USA Women’s Olympic Gymnastic teams, or that he has been sentenced to 60 years of prison for child pornography charges, or that it is predicted that well over 100 women will emerge and speak in court about how he sexually abused them under the guise of providing them “medical treatment” necessary for their athletic success.
We’re not going to start there.
We’re going to start at the beginning.
We’re going to start with our children.
We going to start with one of Satan’s prized tools that guides all people, especially young people, who suffer sexual abuse, into the corner of shame and humiliation and silence.
We’re going to start with the FEAR that Aly Raisman experienced as a young woman who tried to speak up but was told to be quiet. Because FEAR is the sword that the father of lies wields at us when we try to find words for sins that we don’t know how to weigh. For sins we don’t know how to recognize. For sins we are embarrassed we were even in the same room with, much less forced to be a part of.
What do we teach our child athletes, the students in our classrooms, the patients in our offices, our very own precious children laying down in bed at night as we pull back their messy, numbered hairs and kiss their foreheads sweet dreams?
We teach them to speak up when something doesn’t feel right. We teach them it is imperative to move beyond FEAR.
But that means we have to listen to a thousand meaningless stories in the in between years: the years between the time they are placed into our arms and the time they are 11 and 13 and 19 years old. I think our parent-listening is an essential way for us to gain ground against the villain of FEAR. In order for our precious ones to trust us as safe places to receive their not-so-safe stories, we have to endure being present for all these other seemingly long, often drawn out stories they share. There are all these stories about preschool playground quibbles and thoughts on dinosaurs living in outer space we have to engage in if they’re ever going to come to us with the hard stuff.
We have to lean into all these child-sense conversations so that we can hear the one that might point us to something they don’t know how to say. But are willing to say. Because they know we won’t silence them.
We will listen. After listening, we will quiet our hearts and affirm. We will not allow FEAR to lead them to believe that they are the problem.
Mommas, we have believed this about ourselves. As we have navigated our childhood, our teenage years, and beyond, some of us have been driven by FEAR in an attempt to be loved and accepted and known. Some of us have spent years believing that our own stories of sexual abuse are not worth recounting because we believed that we were the problem.
But we will call out this lie now that we know better; we will stand with this next generation of women because that is what Christian, Jesus-believing women are called to do.
I have said this before, but I can’t help repeating it here. We have viewed ourselves as the weaker sex, and in many ways, when assessing physical strength, we are weaker than our male counterparts. This physical comparison to men has has led many of us to perceive our “comparative” weaknesses as debilitating. We have looked in the mirror and despised ourselves for our imperfections and allowed our disappointments to feed a fear that is unjustified and unhealthy.
Our fears have perpetuated our distrust, to the point that many of us do not trust our only source of humanity. We do not even trust our own bodies.
How long will Christian women sit and wonder, Is it appropriate for me to speak about what is going on out there? How long will we say, What’s going on out there doesn’t really affect me? How long will we believe our voice is only a minority in the cacophony of female voices and that speaking up is probably just a waste of time?
Women abiding in Christ have a responsibility to speak up now and share in the sisterhood that compels women to speak for how they were created. Standing off to the side and separating ourselves from the women “over there” will leave the church believing that it can take a pass on speaking truth. But that truth is ours to speak.
We need to speak about how our bodies have been assaulted and abused and pillaged at the hands of those who take advantage of the weak. Because it pours into a bigger picture of how we see ourselves. And how we see our children. Victims of sexual abuse and assault — We are not the problem!
When we begin believing that there is strength to be gained by seeing ourselves as cherished, satisfied, beautiful, formidable, and well worth the effort of preserving, then we start believing these bodies are worth the effort of taking care of, worth the emotional energy of respecting, worth the reshaping of our imaginations to protect. We will have to stare down weight stigma and body shame with a steadfast, piercing glare, like Aly Raisman did to Larry Nassar, call it out for what it is, which is a sack full of LIES, and shove it to the curb.
Because the time is now.
The time is up!
Jesus has always been the embodiment of hope in the midst of heart breaking confession. Jesus has always been the hands and feet of love in the midst of violence and oppression. Jesus has always been the voice of life that emerges in the swells that speak of fear.
Father, help us believe in the POWER of Your Son, Jesus, who reminds us that our desire for righteousness is worth fighting for. We go out there, assured of your blessing.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
A version of this article originally appeared at JuleetaHarvey.com.
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