After coming out as a victim of former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman has launched a campaign called Flip The Switch aimed at teaching adults how to identify sexual abuse among youth athletes. The two-hour program is completely free of charge for anyone wanting to participate.
The #FlipTheSwitch campaign is a partnership between Raisman and Darkness to Light, a non-profit whose mission is to teach adults techniques that can be used to prevent child abuse. Since speaking at Nassar’s trial, Raisman has become an advocate for youth athletes who may also be victims.
“Sexual abuse is something that needs to be discussed openly — especially now — given the challenges our sport is facing, and all adults should become educated as to how to prevent it,’ Raisman said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “Ignoring the issue, in hopes that it goes away, is unacceptable. Athlete safety must be the highest priority.”
The program focuses on teaching adults that kids often carry the weight of sexual abuse on their own. It also looks to illustrate how many adults have been complicit in sexual assault, even without knowing it. Victims, it stresses, can sometimes be de-incentivized from speaking up because many have been groomed by their abusers. Per the training program, grooming is “a process by which an offender gradually draws a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy.” This is usually predicated on the abuser being a person with whom the victim – or their family – have a relationship.
“All of us have had a role,” said Paula Sellars, an author and expert on preventing child abuse. “We’ve lacked prevention knowledge. Maybe we just didn’t see it or know about it. Sometimes we’ve denied it, and missed opportunities for courage. Some have actively covered up sexual abuse at the expense of our children.”
Sellers, who will moderate the Flip the Switch training program, broke down the process of preventing abuse into five steps: learning the facts, minimizing opportunity, talking about abuse, recognizing the signs, and reacting responsibly.
Learning the facts means understanding how prevalent child sexual abuse is, and making a commitment to looking out for it. Minimizing opportunity means making interactions between adults and minors “observable and interruptible.” This can be done by crafting the spaces in which adults and minors interact such that the child is always able to see another adult.
Talking about abuse means teaching kids what they need to know about their own bodies, and, crucially, understanding what actions are off-limits. Kids can have a hard time explaining their abuse to adults, so the program suggests that it’s “important to recognize a child’s attempts to talk to us about their concerns.”
The program notes that physical signs of abuse, while they exist, are far less common than the emotional ones and being able to recognize those is imperative. Emotional distress can manifest as fear, wonton anger, worsening school performance, and using alcohol or drugs at an early age.
The final step is what the program calls reacting responsibly. The first way to do that is to immediately find ways to seek out support for the child. According to the program, the “support you give sets the stage for their healing process and their well-being over time.”
Prior to launching Flip the Switch, Raisman sued the US Olympic Committee, claiming that they should have noticed the signs of Nassar’s abuse. In other words, Raisman has crafted the program to counteract the many mistakes in oversight made by the committee. Her hope is that, by offering the program for free, that lack of oversight, intentional or not, can be avoided in the future.