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‘Sister survivors’: Larry Nassar victims show solidarity as they receive award at ESPYs

Sarah Klein, Tiffany Thomas Lopez and Aly Raisman, from left in front, and others who suffered sexual abuse accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs. (Phil McCarten/Invision/AP)
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Saying, “We may suffer alone, but we survive together,” Aly Raisman and dozens of other victims of disgraced ex-doctor Larry Nassar accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on Wednesday at the 2018 ESPYs. In a powerful display of solidarity, 141 women, on behalf of perhaps hundreds more who were sexually abused over a period of decades, took the stage at the end of the awards ceremony.

“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,” said Raisman, a gold medal-winning Olympic gymnast who has been withering in her criticism of the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics for not doing more to protect vulnerable athletes from Nassar’s abuses.

Nassar was also on the staff of Michigan State University for over 20 years, and that school agreed in May to pay $500 million to settle lawsuits filed by 332 alleged victims of him. Former MSU softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez spoke onstage Wednesday, telling the audience that in sports “we typically measure ourselves by wins and losses,” and that “the amount of loss that we’ve endured over the years is almost immeasurable.”

“But tonight,” she said to applause, “we stand here, and it feels like we’re finally winning.”

Thomas and Raisman were among more than 150 women, girls and family members who spoke directly to Nassar during an extraordinary, week-long sentencing hearing at a Michigan court in January. Nassar, who was already serving a 60-year federal term on charges related to child pornography, was sentenced to a term of 40 to 175 years.

Raisman praised the judge who presided over that hearing, Rosemarie Aquilina, for allowing them to “face our abuser, to speak our truth and feel heard.” The six-time Olympic medal winner, including two golds in the team competition, added, “For too long, we were ignored, and you helped us rediscover the power we each possess.”

Raisman began her remarks by listing the many years in which “we spoke up about Larry Nassar’s abuse.” The first woman who spoke, Sarah Klein, identified herself as Nassar’s first victim, “30 years ago,” and she praised an MSU police detective, Andrea Munford, and state prosecutor, Angela Povilaitis, for “finally putting our abuser away for life.”

“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,” Klein said. “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,” she continued, “I am here to say that we must start caring about children’s safety more than we care about adults’ reputations.”

Klein said it was “a privilege to stand up here with my sister survivors as we represent hundreds more who are not with us tonight,” adding that they were “here on this stage to present an image for the world to see: a portrait of survival, a new vision of courage. ”

The award recipients were introduced by actress 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.”

“To all the survivors out there, don’t let anyone rewrite your story,” Raisman said. “Your truth does matter, you matter, and you are not alone.”

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