BOSTON (CBS) – The lobby at 265 Franklin Street in Boston was an unusual place to host a conversation about child sexual abuse. But Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman, the central figure on the panel, would say we need to discuss the silent epidemic as publicly as possible.
Her mission is to educate people about abuse, remove the stigma attached to reporting it and empower fellow survivors. “We all have the power to do something to help. I know it’s impossible to get everyone in the world to care about sexual abuse. But we might as well try,” she told WBZ’s Lisa Hughes. “If adults aren’t educated, children can’t be. If we can help the next generation start off in a healthier environment…maybe they won’t grow up to be predators. Maybe they’ll be the ones who change the way things are.”
Until that happens, Raisman is putting her energies into promoting an online training program called Stewards for Children. It was created by the national nonprofit, Darkness to Light. The training teaches adults how to recognize, report and prevent child sexual abuse. Raisman’s “Flip the Switch” campaign will pay for anyone to take the two-hour online training course and she will, personally, sign the certificate.
The program also helps to identify “red flags.” Raisman says adults should keep an eye on someone who’s beloved by other adults but whom children want to avoid. Adults who want to spend large amounts of time with kids (who aren’t their children) and adults who take a lot of photos of kids should also raise red flags.
Hughes asked what Raisman would tell a child who is afraid to report an abuser. “Everyone copes differently,” she said. “Just to know that they’re not alone. It’s not their fault…It’s not something that’s easy to talk about… I’m doing everything I can to educate people so that when they share their story, they’re heard. Ninety six percent of the time, a survivor is telling the truth.”
Raisman knows the power of speaking the truth even when it is painful. She and roughly 140 other gymnasts came forward to accuse Dr. Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. Earlier this year, before his sentencing, some of them—including Raisman—gave victim impact statements. Raisman says preventing abuse can save a child’s life. “Once you’re abused,” she explained, “your life is never the same.”
She urges survivors who choose to come forward not to give up if, at first, they aren’t taken seriously. “Don’t stop until you get the answers you deserve. As a survivor, we deserve for the abusers to be held accountable,” she said. “They don’t stop. They often have many victims. I believe it’s really important to put them away so they can’t commit their horrible crimes.”
And to parents who fear their child may be the victim of abuse, she says, understand that he or she may not reveal the truth right away. Raisman suggests creating a safe emotional environment so that children know they will be heard, believed and supported.
Eastern Bank is the first New England business to partner with Raisman. It presented her with a $25,000 check for “Flip the Switch” and is offering the training course to all its employees.
“Eastern has been amazing. They really care,” Raisman said. “There are a lot of companies that would be afraid to take this issue on, which is crazy because it should be something we all care about…We need to save children and we need to do everything we can to help.”