Three-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman‘s decision to finally set the record straight about the sexual abuse she received at the hands of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar wasn’t an easy one, she tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview.
“I was just so scared and nervous about what people were going to think,” says Raisman, who details the abuse in the pages of her aptly-titled autobiography Fierce, which will be released on Nov. 14. “I was a textbook victim, brainwashed to believe I was fine.”
The 23-year-old former captain of the 2012 and 2016 U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastic team has come forward with a disturbing account of how, she claims, Nassar began “molesting” her at the age of 15.
In her new book, excerpted exclusively in the new issue of PEOPLE, she opens up about her frightening memories of Nassar, who is now awaiting sentencing on federal child pornography charges in Michigan and has been accused of sexually abusing hundreds of female athletes.
“It wasn’t until I started seeing other doctors and athletic trainers that I began to realize that their methods were far different from Larry’s,” she writes.
“When I lay on my stomach to have my hamstrings worked on, towels were draped over my hips and buttocks for privacy and to ensure that there was no inappropriate skin-to-skin contact. They never, ever crossed any lines in where they massaged.
“And there was never a moment when their methods made me uncomfortable. It was different with Larry. I would lie on the table, my hands involuntarily balling themselves into fists as his ungloved hands worked their way under my clothing. ‘Treatment sessions’ with him always made me feel tense and uncomfortable.”
Raisman is by far the most elite athlete to go public with allegations of abuse against Nassar, who was fired by USA Gymnastics in 2015 after nearly three decades with the organization. He also faces 33 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Michigan. Lawyers for Nassar declined PEOPLE’s request for comment.
“I would grit my teeth,” she writes, “trying to convince myself that all this was part of the healing process. The truth was he never made my injuries feel any better, but I always obeyed because he had a reputation for being the best doctor.”
Finally coming to grips with the nauseating reality of what, she claims, Nassar did to her—and her teammates—opened up a floodgate of emotion. “When I look back now,” she says, “it makes me angry, upset and sad that we didn’t trust our own fears.”
Raisman adds her voice to a chorus of countless other women—who have spoken out since the sexual misconduct scandal that toppled Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein—in hopes that she can make a difference. “The last few months have not been easy for me,” says Raisman. “There have been some days where I feel so much anxiety and I feel sick. I’ve never really had that before. It’s just nerve wracking because you don’t know how people are going to react.”
“I love gymnastics,” says Raisman, who hopes to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “This has noting to do with my teammates, my coaches, or the sport I love so much. It’s the organization [USA Gymnastics] that let me down… I don’t know how some of them sleep at night. I don’t feel like they care at all that this happened to me… It’s horrific what I went through.”
“I want to create change,” she insists. “No one deserves to be hurt or taken advantage of.”
In a statement Sunday, Team USA Gymnastics said in part: “We are appalled by the conduct of which Larry Nassar is accused, and we are very sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career.
“Aly’s passion and concern for athlete safety is shared by USA Gymnastics. Our athletes are our priority, and we are committed to promoting an environment of empowerment that encourages speaking up, especially on difficult topics like abuse, as well the protection of athletes at all levels throughout our gymnastics community.
“We are hard at work to strengthen that commitment by: adopting the USA Gymnastics Safe Sport Policy; hiring a new president and chief executive officer who emphasizes empowerment throughout the organization; building a safe sport department that is developing a comprehensive education plan for members; and creating an implementation plan for the recommendations made by an experienced, former federal prosecutor who carefully examined the organization’s past policies.”
The statement concluded: “We are committed to doing what is right, and we want to work with Aly and all interested athletes to keep athletes safe.”
- With reporting by Megan Johnson