‘Abuse is not just in the moment’: Aly Raisman pushes for passage of California bill to support survivors of sexual assault

“I ask that you empower the victims of abuse to become survivors of abuse.”

Olympic Gold Medalist Aly Raisman, foreground left, joined by dozens of victims of sexual assault by USC's Dr. George Tyndall, speaks in support of a measure by Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes, D-,San Bernardino, right, that would extend the statute of limitations to file civil lawsuits against Tyndall, at the Capitol Tuesday, April 23, 2019, in Sacramento, Calif. Tyndall, who was an OB GYN at the USC health center, is accused of sexually assaulting and abusing women under his care for nearly three decades. Raisman was assaulted by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Olympic Gold Medalist Aly Raisman speaks at the California State Capitol on Tuesday. –Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman stood with dozens of survivors of sexual assault inside California’s State Capitol on Tuesday to advocate for the passage of a bill in the state that would extend the statute of limitations for the reporting of sexual assault and abuse. 

“Too often, statutes of limitations fail to account for the complexity of sexual abuse — how it occurs, when it occurs, where it occurs, why it occurs, and the process by which victims of such abuse come to terms with a reality nobody else has been willing to acknowledge,” the Needham native said, surrounded by women who allege they were abused by former University of Southern California doctor George Tyndall. “Unless carefully and specifically crafted to account for the unique circumstances of abuse, such statutes disempower victims by stripping them of the ability to take action against their abusers and enablers, effectively perpetuating the cycle of sexual violence and abuse.”

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Hundreds of USC students and alumni have come forward to accuse Tyndall, a longtime gynecologist at the college, of sexual abuse or inappropriate conduct during physical exams. He has denied the allegations and has not been charged with a crime. Nearly 100 women are suing the college, accusing the school of ignoring the complaints against the physician that reportedly date back to 1988.

The Los Angeles Times reported on the alleged pattern of abuse by Tyndall in a series of stories last year. The proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 1510, would give Tyndall’s accusers, for whom the statute of limitations has expired, a year to file civil claims in court.

“This additional year to file a claim is necessary because many victims were afraid to come forward before seeing the media coverage and learning that they were not the only victim, but one of thousands of women that were part of a decades long cycle of sexual assault and abuse committed at what otherwise was supposed to be a safe space,” Eloise Gómez Reyes, the assemblymember who introduced the legislation, said in a statement.

In her remarks on Tuesday, Raisman drew a parallel to her own experience suffering abuse at the hands of former USA gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. She said that abuse that occurs under the guise of medical treatment is destructive not just because the trust in the doctor is lost, but because it is broken “in the system, in your community, and in those upon whom you rely.”

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“I assumed I was the problem, just as many of the survivors did,” Raisman said. “Every time we enter a doctor’s office, we rely on his/her education and certification, and we lower our guard. We defer to their opinions and instructions, and when they tell you that a certain protocol is necessary, you tend to accept that. When you catch yourself thinking this seems strange and feels uncomfortable, you are conditioned to rationalize, telling yourself that he is a doctor who treats patients every day, and that if there were a problem, someone would have done something about it long ago.”

Since sharing her own story of abuse and confronting Nassar in court, the Olympic gymnast has been advocating for training to prevent child sexual abuse through the #FlipTheSwitchCampaign.

Raisman urged California lawmakers to “empower the victims of abuse to become survivors of abuse” through the passage of the proposed bill.

“Abuse is not just in the moment,” she said. “Everyone’s story is different, and everyone copes differently. Some feel comfortable coming forward immediately after abuse. For others, it takes years, and some may never come to terms with it. What all survivors have in common is that the effects of abuse stay with you for the rest of your life.”

Watch her full speech below — starting around 12:00.

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