Raisman says she was threatened, ignored over abuse claims
When Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman reported her abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar, she thought USA Gymnastics officials and the FBI would help.
Instead, she said she was discouraged from speaking out and even threatened.
In the summer of 2015, just after USA Gymnastics was first alerted to Nassar’s abuse allegations, Raisman said she met with Fran Sepler, an investigator hired by the organization.
“I did let Fran know that I was very uncomfortable with (Nassar) and he did touch me inappropriately,” Raisman said. ” … I felt like I was sticking up for Nassar too much. I did let Fran know that I was very uncomfortable with him.”
Raisman then told an official at USA Gymnastics that Sepler needed to speak with more girls who had had similar experiences with Nassar.
Shortly after, Raisman said, “I got, in my opinion, what I perceived as a threat from Fran.”
She said she was told she would jeopardize herself if she continued to discuss her abuse. According to a 2015 text message shared with CNN, Raisman was told, “I appreciate your interest and concern in this matter … but please remember that there are risks in sharing information at this point. There is a process in place and staying clear of the process will protect you and others.”
Sepler told CNN she categorically denies making any threat to Raisman, adding that Raisman’s story lacks context: “I would never threaten a young person. … I was very concerned. If anything I was trying to protect her.”
“It felt like, from the very beginning, Fran Sepler was always on USA Gymnastics’ side. Their biggest concern was always just to keep it quiet,” Raisman said. “We kept reaching out, my mom and I. Obviously, that’s not enough for us. We want to make sure this is being investigated and we were told that the FBI was handling it.”
Sepler said Raisman’s prior discussions about Nassar with USAG staff were not reported to her. “I am an independent fact finder. I have no skin in the game” she told CNN on Friday night.
At the time, “We didn’t know then what we know now,” Sepler said, reiterating that she would never tell a young person not to speak out.
Raisman also said leadership at the US Olympic Committee and USAG has ignored her in the weeks since her high-profile victim’s statement at Nassar’s sentencing. No offer of support, no offer of assistance — just one email from a lawyer.
“I have not heard from (USOC CEO) Scott Blackmun,” Raisman said. “I posted a lot on Twitter against the United States Olympic Committee. I did receive an email from one of their lawyers and he was more concerned about how they look. You know, asking me why — kind of asking … me why I was tweeting.”
“It’s interesting because in August of 2017, I got a form letter email from Scott Blackmun saying congratulations, it’s been a year, on your gold medal performance. So I know he has my email. So why I haven’t heard from him now? That just shows he cares more about gold medals than he does about my well-being or anyone else’s,” Raisman said.
Blackmun has not responded to multiple CNN requests for comment on charges related to the USOC.
Raisman said the culture of inaction and lack of support is nothing new. What has changed is her confidence to confront it.
As a gymnast training at Karolyi Ranch — the US Women’s National Team Training Center in Texas — Raisman said she and her fellow athletes were afraid to ask for basic needs such as soap and adequate food.
“There was so much of a power dynamic where we never felt like we could speak up or say anything,” she said. “We had like powdered eggs in the morning, the food was horrible, the showers smelled like rotten eggs, there were cockroaches on the floor.”
Raisman told CNN she and her teammates felt powerless to complain about the conditions.
“I remember there was one time in the gym at the training camp, there was not — there was no more soap left in the bathrooms and we were all talking amongst ourselves, kind of arguing of who was going to speak up about needing more soap because we were afraid to ask for more soap … it just shows the power that they had over us.”
Now the 23-year-old says it makes her sick to think about the fear. “It makes me sad that we were so afraid, you know? It should not be like that. It shouldn’t. You shouldn’t be so afraid to compete that, if you don’t win, you know, I think we kind of competed out of fear. And that’s unacceptable.”
USA Gymnastics cut ties with Karolyi Ranch last month. The facility has since closed. Asked to comment on Raisman’s allegations, Gary Jewell, a lawyer for the Karolyis, said he would not be able to provide a statement refuting her claims early Friday afternoon. But he referred CNN to a previous statement he gave the network.
“A full statement from the Karolyis is forthcoming. They will be speaking to journalists who are interested in reporting an objective and balanced story from all perspectives — specifically including their personal and individual perspectives. They are not interested in providing soundbites to reporters chasing content pursuant to self-imposed deadlines,” Jewell said.
Bela and Marta Karolyi, who owned the ranch, are longtime gymnastics coaches for Team USA who are considered legends in the world of gymnastics.
Several elite gymnasts have said they were molested by Nassar when he was the team doctor at Karolyi Ranch. And a lawsuit filed by a plaintiff, known only as Jane LM Doe, claims the Karolyis struck and physically abused young children there and turned a blind eye to Nassar. The suit says Nassar was allowed to have “unfettered and secluded access to minor children.”
The couple has not filed legal responses to those accusations.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has requested the Texas Rangers investigate the claims.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct when Raisman’s initial meeting with investigator Fran Sepler took place. It was in the summer of 2015.