By Grace French, founder and president of The Army of Survivors
It’s only fitting that two years to the day since I publicly shared the story of my abuse by Larry Nassar, I will be in a board meeting helping to run a nonprofit organization created in the aftermath by and for survivors of sexual violence.
I began The Army of Survivors for selfish reasons. It felt good to use my voice and reclaim my story. By advocating for change and working to support other survivors, my story was no longer about him but about survivors and the community working together to create something more powerful than he ever was.
This work was healing for me and for many others within our organization and outside of it. I often watch in awe as my sister survivors show me what courage means: lobbying in multiple state legislatures for survivor rights, founding nonprofits, writing books, appearing on national television to raise awareness and continuing to educate others about sexual violence.
There is also the quiet, but equally strong, courage that I see in my sisters learning to live each day after trauma, working to heal in therapy, learning how to deal with anxiety attacks and nightmares, fighting to gain control of PTSD. We all are fighting to write our own story.
Not every day feels like a step forward in healing for a survivor.
The past two years have seen steps forward in healing and steps backward. There are days where I feel more like a victim than a survivor. On those days, what keeps me moving forward is the idea that if we do not continue to use our voice, sexual violence will continue to victimize and traumatize many more people.
So 2,500 volunteer hours later, we at The Army of Survivors are working to become the premiere national nonprofit advocating for survivors of sexual violence in sport and to bring awareness, accountability, and transparency regarding this horror.
Volunteers with The Army have created an organization run entirely by volunteers, co-curated a museum exhibit, co-hosted five panels on topics related to sexual violence, hosted multiple workshops, presented and talked to more than 3,000 people, worked with more than a dozen partner organizations and created tangible resources for survivors, with more in the works.
We have helped to open up the conversation, to create more talk, more action and more education around the issue of sexual violence — and sexual violence in sport — than ever before.
All of this work is worthwhile because we as survivors are taking back our power. We win when the faces of survivors are on the front page instead of the perpetrator. We win when survivors are brought into conversations around structural and institutional change rather than just administrators. We win when national conversation around sexual violence is victim-centered. We win when a survivor successfully works through an anxiety attack on their own because they had access to mental health professionals.
And since one in three women and one in six men will be sexually abused or assaulted, everyone wins when we talk about this issue and work toward a brighter tomorrow. Together.