“I believe you and it’s not your fault.”
The message from a survivor of the Larry Nassar abuse case
. Former gymnast Sarah Klein knows first-hand the anguish of sexual assault. She was one of the first known victims of Dr. Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor now serving life in prison after more than 300 women came forward with their own stories of sexual abuse.
Sarah will be the special guest for the Patty Brisben Foundation’s #sexualhealthmatters conversation, “Sexual Health Following Trauma,” on Tuesday, November 12 at 6 p.m. at Northern Kentucky University’s Student Union Building. Sarah, who stayed anonymous through most of the Nassar trial until victims’ statements, talked with us about her recovery from sexual abuse and how she is helping other women who have faced similar trauma.
“I chose to stay anonymous because the relationship I had with Larry Nassar was incredibly personal, starting when I was just eight years old,” she said. “He was like a member of our family. To learn that someone I’d loved and trusted for nearly the entirety of my life had been performing ‘treatment’ on me – not for medical purposes but for his own sexual pleasure – was needless to say, shocking.”
“The entire paradigm of my life collapsed instantly and it took me some time to decide to come forward publicly. I needed my victim impact statement to be between me and Larry. It was incredibly empowering to speak my truth, though it was also deeply sad. There was so much pain in that courtroom.”
Sarah, who is now an attorney and consultant, often speaks with other trauma survivors who reach out to her. “The first thing I say to a survivor who discloses their abuse to me is, ‘I believe you and it’s not your fault.’ There is absolutely nothing that can justify another person touching our bodies without our permission.”
“For so long there has been such a stigma around sexual abuse. Society taught survivors to be embarrassed, to hide, to stay silent. That silencing leads survivors to believe they did something wrong, that they should be ashamed. I think in the last two years or so, we have been able to flip that script. Speaking up is brave. It is not your fault. You did nothing wrong.”
She also is working to get legislative protection for abuse survivors, who often wait too long to report their abuse. “My primary focus is on extending (or ideally abolishing) statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse,” she said. “The average age of reporting child sexual abuse is 52 years old. 52 years old! Why? For that exact reason I described above – shame, embarrassment, guilt. Survivors have often harbored their pain alone, and walked through life carrying this secret. They turn to alcohol and drugs, and often suffer from depression, anxiety and nightmares.”
“When the body and psyche simply cannot take it any more (around middle age), they disclose. And by the time they disclose, they often have no criminal or civil recourse. Right now, the arbitrary statutes of limitations protect predators. It is time to turn that around and ensure that the law protects victims, not their abusers.”
To that end, Sarah feels her mission is helping survivors take back their lives, and take control of their futures after abuse. “There is a big beautiful light on the other side of early childhood trauma or any kind of abuse. How or why we were abused is something we may never have answers to,” she said. “For so long – Larry Nassar held the power. But if we do not step into our lives and live up to our endless potential, Larry still holds the power.”
“So my advice is to take their power back. Find meaning in their suffering. For me, helping others walk through this and out the other side is that meaning. I love what I do, I love the people in my life, I awake each day with a grateful heart in spite of everything I’ve been through. Because that’s what I choose. I choose to not simply survive. I choose to thrive. Every survivor has that choice to make.”
“To every survivor out there, I pose this question: How will you rise?”
Sarah will be the special guest panelist for the #sexualhealthmatters conversation presented by the Patty Brisben Foundation on Tuesday, November 12 at 6 p.m. at Northern Kentucky University’s Student Union. Tickets are free, and space is limited. To reserve your ticket, click HERE.