141 athletes sexually assaulted by the same man showed us what courage really looks like

'We may suffer alone, but we survive together.’

While former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar rots in a prison for his full sentence of 175 years, the women and girls he sexually assaulted have come out in a powerful moment of solidarity. At the this year’s ESPYs, an American awards show that celebrates athletic achievements, 141 survivors took to the stage to accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage and the moment was both devastating and uplifting all at the same time.

Jennifer Garner presented the award to the group of ‘sister-survivors’, who filled the stage in a seemingly endless line and joined hands, before handing it off to athletes Sarah Klein, Tiffany Thomas Lopez and Aly Raisman. After the standing ovation and applause had ended, all three gave speeches touching on the importance of child protection over adult reputations, the courage it takes to speak out and the need for people willing to listen.

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Former gymnast Sarah Klein said the scene was ‘a portrait of survival’ and ‘a new vision of courage’, and that it was a ‘privilege’ to stand and speak for the hundreds of sister survivors that were and were not with them that night.

As Larry Nasar’s first known target, Sarah said, ‘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. We’re sacrificing privacy we’re being judged and scrutinised and it’s gruelling and it’s painful, but it is time.’

She continued, ‘As a mother i am here to say that we must start caring about children’s safety more than we care about adult’s reputations. And as a survivor, I am here to say, that we can if we can just give one person the courage to use their voice – this is worth it. If one more victim of sexual abuse feels less alone tonight, then our suffering has meaning.’

Former softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez next gave a longer speech that touched on the intersection of racial oppression and sexual abuse that she had personally faced. She said, ‘The amount of loss that we’ve endured over the years is almost immeasurable…I’m here to tell you that you cannot silence the strong forever.’

Judge Aquilina, the judge who presided over the Larry Nassar trial and famously granted each survivor a chance to address their abuser, was also in attendance at the ESPYs.

Gymnast Aly Raisman took a moment out of her speech to thank her, saying, ‘All those years we were told, ‘You were wrong. You misunderstood. He’s a doctor, it’s okay. Don’t worry, we’ve got it covered. Be careful, there are risks involve.’ The intention? To silence us. In favour of money, medals and reputation. But we persisted and finally someone listened and believed us. This past january, Judge Rosemary Aquilina showed a profound level of understanding by giving us eac the opportunity to face our abuser, to speak our truth and be heard. Thank you, Judge Aquilina for honouring our voices.’

She called the ‘greatest tragedy of this nightmare’ the fact that it could have been avoided, had one adult simply stood up against and between Larry Nassar and those he abused.

She ended her speech saying, ‘To all the survivors out there, don’t let anyone rewrite your story. Your truth does matter, you matter and you are not alone. We all face hardships, if we choose to listen and we choose to act with empathy we can draw strength from each other. We may suffer alone, but we survive together.’

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