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Ali Riceman ‘Light from Darkness,’ Seeking Justice, and Learning Healing


A while back in Ally Riceman’s new Lifetime documentary, Light from darkness, Where former gymnast #MeToo founder Tarana Burke sat down. “We can’t stay in our trauma every day and talk about that survival,” Burke tells him.

It hit Riceman, who has become a leading voice in the fight to end sexual harassment after Team USA came forward with allegations against former doctor Larry Nasser. When he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Riceman confirmed setting a time for dinner with his teammates who were testifying. Together, they made a deal: not talking about bad things. “Life is hard,” Riceman told ELLE.com. “You have to remember the happy moments, because if you don’t have it, it can be really hard to survive.”

Inside Light from darkness (September 2 premiering), three-time Olympic gold medalists meet with survivors from across the country and host a roundtable with experts such as RAINN (National Network on Rape, Abuse and Incest) and Darkness to Light, a nonprofit that empowers adult children. To prevent sexual abuse.

Below, Riceman talks about the importance of this type of support network, the pressure to speak out against “those who have a lot of power” and how he spends time for pleasure.

A major theme that you explore Light from darkness Network support plays a role for survivors. Where did you get your support network?

No matter what happens in life, having a community and a support system is very important. I admit that not everyone has a support system, but I think it’s important not to give up until they find one. It is very helpful. There are many ups and downs in life. Having the support of my teammates, but also knowing that they know how I feel and know that they have gone through the same thing is really legitimate. It helps me feel less alone. Sometimes you don’t even have to say anything. You just know they understand you and you feel legitimacy by them. I consider myself very lucky to have it, because I know a lot of people don’t think they have it.

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Last week, you testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about alleged mismanagement of the FBI’s Larry Nasser investigation. How did you prepare for this?

It was different from what we had done before, because with so many cameras around and so many people watching, it was a lot of pressure to testify in front of senators. It is really difficult to prepare testimony when you have time to speak. It’s very personal, but just a lot bigger than you. It is also very uncomfortable to speak out against the FBI. It was scary, because they are in such a position of power. Whenever you talk, it’s really hard. But I think it’s even more terrifying to speak out against those who have so much power. At the same time, what inspires me is knowing that it’s unfortunately much bigger than the four of us, and there are a lot of people out there who are fighting and silently suffering. I feel very lucky that we are being listened to, supported and verified.

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When testifying you said that people often do not realize that “experiencing a form of abuse is not something that suffers at the moment; it sometimes carries on for the rest of their lives. How do you balance both an advocate and a survivor who still Are they on a healing journey?

When I talk or even do an interview, it’s a lot of stress. I admit that many of the survivors do not have the platform that I do. So it’s really hard, and I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself. But at the end of the day, I try to focus on how lucky I am to hear and be verified, because I know a lot of people don’t have it. But it is very difficult. I’m trying to figure out how I can get to a place where I don’t overdo it or feel so triggered. It’s a work in progress, and I think the moments that really trigger me are actually how I can learn where I need to set better boundaries. I’m learning to go.

McCella Maroni, Simon Byles and Maggie Nichols also testified. Did you rely on each other for support?

The night before the testimony, we all had dinner together with our mother. We’ve all been together so many days, so we said, ‘Tomorrow is going to be very heavy, let’s just enjoy dinner.’ Why do we trigger if we are going to trigger again the next day? When you have this hole in your stomach the next day, it’s really hard to try to have fun, but I think it’s important to allow you and your friends to say nothing if you don’t want to. On the morning of the testimony, we were there for each other. We know each other very well, so I think I can tell how someone is doing by looking at the look on his face. We have everything as soon as we know we have each other’s backs. After we testified, Angelina Jolie came to say hello to us, which was really like her. That moment of the day was a wonderful distraction.

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How does justice look to you?

We have been fighting for accountability for years. I reported my abuse six years ago. This is much bigger than putting an abuser in jail. To believe in our secure future, we need to understand who knew who and when. Those who have wronged us must be held accountable so that we can have those answers. We need to conduct a completely independent investigation by the FBI, USA Gymnastics, and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committees – and see the interaction between the three organizations. There is no justice without it. Those who enable abusers must be held accountable. The problem is that it’s not just an abuser. It’s the system and the people that enable it and let it happen.

It’s really frustrating that survivors have to try and tell our lives over and over again, hopefully people will listen and do the right thing. Our society should not be arranged like this. Survivors shouldn’t say they have to free people from their injuries to try to do the right thing.

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How do you spend time caring for yourself?

I realize that tomorrow or this weekend, or a few weeks from now, it can be a bit difficult for me. I can feel more neded than usual, because this thing is really important, I’m human. It’s a very heavy subject to talk about, and it’s very personal. So I allow myself to rest and make sure I am making time for myself to rest. I find my happy moments spent with friends, my puppy Milo and my family. I enjoy playing tennis. I enjoy the garden, and go for walks. Anytime I can unplug and really feel myself, and surround myself with people who make me feel like me, that’s a beautiful thing.

This interview has been lightly edited and concentrated for clarity.

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