WOMEN’S CHAMPION

Written By: Robert Cocuzzo

Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman speaks on behalf of A Safe Place.

When Aly Raisman stepped onto the podium at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to receive the third gold medal of her gymnastics career, it was hard to imagine reaching a higher moment in her life. On the heels of winning gold in both the team and floor events in the London Games, Raisman was once again on the podium receiving her sixth medal, making her the second most decorated female Olympic gymnast. Yes, there would be many other accomplishments to come—endorsement deals, clothing lines, her face on a Wheaties box—but what could possibly compare to the grand achievement of winning gold on the world’s most competitive stage? Yet three years later, this Needham, Massachusetts native has transcended sport to become a powerful force against the abuse of women and children.

“My mission today is to be the best version of myself and encourage others to do the same by speaking their truth,” Raisman told N Magazine, a few weeks before coming to Nantucket to speak on behalf of A Safe Place. A little over a year ago, in January 2018, Raisman was in a courtroom in Lansing, Michigan, speaking her own painful truth to a man who had serially molested her and her teammates for more than a decade. Larry Nassar, the disgraced U.S. gymnastics team doctor, looked like a hollow shell of a human being as Raisman powerfully detailed how he abused his position as a doctor to sexually assault her since she was sixteen years old. She spoke forcefully, not only to Nassar and those gathered in the courtroom, but to the world beyond, which at that very moment was undergoing a cataclysmic shift brought on by the #MeToo Movement. “Let this sentence strike fear in anyone who thinks it is OK to hurt another person,” Raisman said. “Abusers, your time is up. The survivors are here, standing tall, and we are not going anywhere.

On July 10th and 11th, Raisman will be bringing this message to Nantucket in support of A Safe Place, a vital organization that has been dedicated to protecting women and children from domestic violence and sexual assault on the island for more than thirty years. She will be speaking at Nantucket High School on the evening of Wednesday the 10th and will be appearing at a luncheon the next day.

“Aly—like the survivors that we are working with—is a true hero to have survived such horrific events and to be able to move forward with one foot in front of the other,” says Jennifer Frazee, who has been with A Safe Place for the last thirteen years and serves as executive director. “Aly’s story is one of strength and courage, and I hope that her sharing it will empower other survivors to have a voice, to know that they deserve better, that life can move forward, and that there is hope.”

A Safe Place began as a telephone hotline in 1987 that provided a lifeline to women suffering from abuse on Nantucket. Their services have since multiplied to include five direct programs that include court advocacy, case management, supervised visitations, supportive counseling, trauma therapy and accompanying victims at the police department or emergency room in the wake of an attack. These services are especially critical on Nantucket, where A Safe Place serves be- tween three hundred and five hundred women and children each year.

“First of all, there’s really no place to hide,” explains Jane Carlin, president of A Safe Place, when asked how combating domestic violence poses unique challenges on Nantucket. “You’re in Stop & Shop, you’re over at the pharmacy, you’re going about your daily life and there could be the person that hit you last night. Or your rapist is out on bail. It’s really hard for people in that situation to feel 100 percent safe at all times … you can be more anonymous elsewhere.” A Safe Place serves as a protective cloak for those in desperate need of help by extricating them from dangerous situations and getting them to the care they need, whether that be in a courtroom, a hospital, a police station or a shelter off island. The organization also has a number of educational programs to teach Nantucket youth proper behavior.

Despite how vital these services are to the community, fundraising for A Safe Place has been a continual struggle since its inception. “There’s not a lot of ‘warm fuzzies’ to play on,” says Linda Hoey, A Safe Place’s second vice president who has been in the trenches fundraising for a decade. “It’s not something that everybody gravitates towards. People don’t understand that this problem happens on Nantucket. So our first challenge is raising awareness around the fact that this is a problem on the island across all socioeconomic ranges.” In the past, A Safe Place has used events like “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” to raise awareness, but Hoey says that the walk has run its course. Instead, the organization is now turning to powerful advocates like Aly Raisman to help champion their cause and draw new supporters into their fold.

Few could be more qualified to help deliver the change A Safe Place is fighting for on Nantucket. After joining her teammates in bringing Larry Nassar to justice, which set in motion a reckoning for USA Gymnastics as a whole, Raisman launched her own initiative called Flip the Switch dedicated to protecting athletes from sexual violence. Whether through her advocacy campaigns, clothing lines, or speaking engagements, Raisman exemplifies heroism and bravery far beyond the gym mat, committing herself to a cause far bigger than winning Olympic gold. “I’m looking forward to sharing my message on Nantucket,” Raisman said. “I hope that it will help others make self-care a priority and know that they deserve to be heard.”

For tickets to Aly Raisman’s appearance or to contribute to A Safe Place, visit www.asafeplacenantucket.org.

Aly Raisman partnered with Aerie—a subdivision of American Eagle Outfitters—in creating the “survivor” swimsuit as part of its #AerieRealRoleModel campaign. Fifteen percent of the sales from the swimsuit went to benefit Darkness to Light, a nonprofit committed to empowering adults to prevent child sexual abuse. Photo from Aerie.

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