Gymnast Aly Raisman is helping other victims as they cope with the aftermath of sexual abuse

By Steve Helling
February 08, 2018 04:02 PM

When Aly Raisman delivered her powerful statement during Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse sentencing hearing in Michigan’s Ingham County last month, she became the face of an army of young women who are determined to make changes in the sport of gymnastics.

Over a period of four days, more than 150 young women and their parents addressed the former doctor, confronting him for abusing them. According to Raisman, many of those women have reached out to her to discuss their abuse.

“I hear from a lot of gymnasts who are former national and team members,” she tells PEOPLE in its latest issue. “Some of their moms are reaching out to me as well. And they’re saying, ‘Can you help us?’ I take that responsibility very, very seriously.”

“It’s hard to describe because some days it’s hard for me to cope with everything, so I’m doing my best to take care of myself and also help some of the other girls,” she says. ” Some of the other girls will call me because they’re listening to all of our interviews, and they’re starting to realize and cope with the fact that they were abused as well. Those are difficult phone calls.”

Raisman, 23, tells PEOPLE that she takes her time in talking things out. “Some of the girls, I’ve been on the phone with them for hours, trying to calm them down and help them understand how this could have happened, even though I can’t understand it.”

For more on Raisman’s new crusade to protect other survivors of sexual abuse, pick up the latest copy of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.

Some positive things have happened since Raisman spoke out. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced Nassar to up to 175 years in prison, declaring “I just signed your death warrant.” Last week, Nassar was sentenced to another 40 to 125 years behind bars in a separate case in Michigan’s Eaton County.

Raisman has now become a voice for change in the sport. In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, she says she won’t rest until there is an independent investigation of both USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee, as well as Michigan State University, where Nassar worked as a sports physician from 1997 to 2016.

Credit: Melissa J. Perenson/CSM/REX/Shutterstock

Her crusade seems to be working: both the USOC and USA Gymnastics have said that they support investigations into their organizations.

While she’s trying to change the sport, Raisman says that each woman has her own individual process of coping, and that she wants to help as many gymnasts as possible.

“It’s hard to put into words when you first realize that you were sexually abused,” she says. “It’s the worst feeling in the world. I just try to tell them that I know it’s hard to imagine right now, but you’re going to be okay. You’re going to get through this. We’re going to make change together.”