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Letter: Gymnasts compel us to open our eyes

To the editor:

Women's Olympic gymnastics will never be the same; an army of sexual abuse survivors are shedding their anonymity, standing up and speaking out. If you've seen these young women on TV, you've witnessed the pain on their faces and heard the rage in their voices.

I've been surprised by the number of people who've asked me directly, "What do you think of all these women coming forward? Could it really be true?" For those of us who work in the field of abuse and violence, we know there are so many reasons why victims of abuse keep quiet. Behind every survivor, there is a story.

These courageous women who have come forward explain it all very clearly:

"I thought I was the only one."

"We were taught to be silent and compliant."

While gymnasts are physically strong and very mature in their ability to focus, they are also isolated and often lonely. They can also be in pain. That makes them uniquely vulnerable.

These young women who did speak up early on, yet were dismissed, began to question their own sanity; their own perception of their experience.

"Nobody's saying anything, I must be wrong."

"When I saw he was finally arrested, the floodgates opened. The thing I never wanted to be true, really was true."

"It defined my whole life."

"I suffered from anxiety, depression and panic attacks."

"A whole part of me was robbed."

These strong young women who have come forward on national TV, have brought us to a new level of awareness. They've moved us past the point where we can turn a blind eye to what we know in our hearts is wrong. Speaking up has helped these women process what happened to them, with many saying they feel relieved and empowered.

"From shame and powerlessness, to using my voice and being the light."

"This gave me courage. Gave me hope. The change starts here."

"The Olympics were my dream. My new dream is to change the world."

Well said, by a courageous young woman with tears in her eyes as she faced national TV cameras with hope, empowerment and a new sense of purpose.

I hope we all move forward with this army of light in 2018 with hope, empowerment and a new sense of purpose in life.

Linda Flanders

Red Wing

Linda Flanders is development coordinator for HOPE Coalition.