Coming to Terms

Last week, former Olympic gymnasts and reigning NCAA champions Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian appeared on CBS This Morning after recently revealing they too were victims of Larry Nassar, who assaulted hundreds of young gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment. Ross and Kocian appeared with their coach at UCLA, Valorie Kondos Field, and the three women fielded questions about Nassar’s actions and subsequent conviction. They were articulate and composed throughout the interview, which you can watch here. Many of Ross’ and Kocian’s thoughts echoed those previously heard from their teammates (the entire 2012 Olympic squad and all but one member of the 2016 team have come forward as Nassar’s victims). Though never asked in as many words, the question lingering over the interview was unsurprising: why wait? Why not come forward earlier?

One of Ross’ answers shed some light on their perspective. “At first, hearing all the news about Larry, I really was in denial of it ever happening to me. I really, at that point in my life when I was thirteen, when it first happened to me, I believed it was a legitimate form of treatment,” she said. And I’m sure some viewers didn’t know how to parse that—how could you not know you were being assaulted?

But for me, and probably countless others like me, that hit home. I knew exactly how Ross felt. Having been assaulted as a young child, I spent most of my formative years without the vocabulary or the knowledge to articulate what had happened to me beyond a distinct feeling of “this is bad” and “I need to get out of here.” I didn’t start hearing the term “sexual assault” until high school—well after the three years when Californian students have sex ed covered—and once I did, I was Googling away, trying to figure out the difference between assault and harassment and both hoping and dreading what had happened to me was a crime. And then, when my terminology was clear and things began to sink in, I had to come to terms with myself, figuring out how much of who I am is because of my assault and how much is despite it. That’s still a challenge.

I will never be able to seek justice from the legal system; even if I knew who had assaulted me, my statute of limitations expired before I went to college. It took me a decade and a half to even decide I wanted to share my experiences with the world, and if my art hadn’t been the driving force, I might never have mentioned it at all. I’m still not great at finding the right words. But I’m trying—and I’ll always look up to people like Ross and Kocian, who start talking about their assaults way before I would’ve been ready; like Simone Biles, who chose a teal leotard for the night she sealed her historic fifth U.S. Championship win (because I didn’t even know there was a color for sexual abuse survivors); like the folks around me every day, who are finding ways to live with their own assaults and still make their world meaningful and fulfilling.

I look up to the people like me, forever coming to terms with themselves. ♦