Aly Raisman headlines Chicago women's luncheon

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Team USA Olympic gold medalist and prominent #MeToo leader Aly Raisman headlined the Chicago Foundation for Women's 2018 luncheon and symposium at the downtown Hyatt Regency Chicago hotel Tuesday.

The foundation, known as CFW, uses the annual event for fundraising and to "(play) a vital role in ensuring that women and girls of Chicago have the resources needed to thrive."

CFW said Raisman discussed the "dynamics of abuse" generally, encouraging attendees to think of how they can empower children to speak up when in danger. She also talked about a "culture of kindness and understanding," CFW's spokeswoman said.

Before the event, Raisman spoke to with me about her message for survivors of sexual assault, who she anticipates always being in the crowd.

"Whenever I speak to a group of people, the statistics show that there will be survivors in the room, whether or not they have come forward publicly or they are suffering in silence... I just want every single person to feel that they matter and to feel that they have a voice and that they should be heard, and to also encourage everyone else that if someone is trying to use their voice that everyone should listen. And whether or not you can relate to someone else's experience, you still should show empathy, and you should still be caring and do your best to help other people," Raisman said.

Asked about translating the tremendous platform she has as an Olympian into whatever venue others have to speak out in, she added "I think it's important to encourage everyone that we all have some kind of platform and we can all be a leader in our community and we can all help other people."

Raisman also emphasized keeping the wide array of survivors out there in mind.

"I think something that's not talked about enough is that men and young boys are also survivors or abuse. It's definitely not talked about nearly enough in our society, and I think that it's important to also recognize that it's more common than we want to believe-abuse is more common... I just want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable sharing their story, because I know not everyone feels comfortable and I know everyone's experiences and stories are different."

Her goal, then, is to encourage everyone to speak up-and persevere when they think no one is listening.

"I do believe there are people out there that really do care and that really will listen and will help you. And it is unfortunate that there are people that just don't care. They're never going to care about abuse. And, you know, unfortunately, we just can't change that, but I think the more that we talk about it, the more we can educate people. So, maybe someone who's victim-shaming online or somebody that is enabling an abuser, we can educate them so that they understand that abuse is never, ever okay, and that it is important to do the right thing and to help people around them."

In light of recent allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, I asked Raisman how she felt about events unfolding in Washington right now.

"Abuse is never, ever, ever okay, and I hope one day that we live in a world where everyone understands that," she said in response.

On organizations' accepting responsibility for abuse within their rans, Raisman said "I think it's just about doing the right thing and just caring about the people that you are in charge of or that you work with. I don't really understand how an organization or people just look the other way and don't care. It's really awful, and I hope that organizations and people can learn from what we went through. And I hope that things really do change, and I hope the organizations and CEOs and bosses will really do the right thing... Take the proper action and make sure that that person is not being abused or mistreated. It's just, I don't understand how I have to sit here and talk so much about just being respectful of one another and not abusing people... It seems like it's's such common sense. Just respect one another and keep your hands to yourself, and if you see something, help the other person."

One way Raisman said people can help is through Darkness To Light, a non-profit educating adults on how to protect children from sexual abuse.

Amid speculation around her involvement with USA Gymnastics moving forward, Raisman said she's not sure whether she'll be a competitor or a fan in 2020-but she plans on being at the next summer games regardless.

"...Any time you can support people competing and doing what they love, I want to be a part of that and will always cherish the moments.... me and my teammates had such great memories together, and (I'm) just grateful for all the people that helped me to get to where I am today," she said.
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