Photo by Silvia Vatteroni
Larissa Miller, who is born in 1992, is an Australian gymnast. She competed at several World championships and represented her country at 2012 Olympic Games.
In mid 2015, Miller broke her silence on being sexually abused by an extended family member between the ages of 5 & 16. She is an advocate & ambassador for Bravehearts Inc. Bravehearts is an Australian non-profit organisation deal with all facets of Child Sexual Assault.
Miller opens up to WOGymnastikA about her sport's career and moving on with her life after the sexual abuse.
Gigi: Tell us about yourself
Larrissa: I am 23, but about 10 years old at heart! I was born in a very small country town in central Queensland called “Moranbah”, at the time having the approximate population of 6,000-7,000 people. I have a Niece and 2 Nephews with another little boy on the way.
I love to write, read poetry and draw. Music is my therapy! I drive a Subaru. I am a stunt double in an upcoming film, called ‘Raising The Bar’.
Sometimes I still find it completely crazy that I have traveled the world doing something that I love. I moved from Queensland to Melbourne in 2013, away from my family, to continue on my gymnastics journey.
Gigi: What are your goals this year?
Larrissa: My goals this year are: Firstly be a part of the team that will travel to Rio in April, and secure Australia a team spot in the Rio Olympic Games.
Then, I would love to make it to my second Olympics, and make a final on either bars or floor.. or both!
Gigi: Are you training new elements?
Larrissa: I am currently training a few new elements, both on floor and bars. If all goes to plan I will be competing them at the test event in Rio.
Gigi: Who are the gymnasts you admire the most?
Larrissa: I love love love Viktoria Komova’s Bars, her lines and rhythm are perfection. Ksenia Afanasyeva on floor, I love the Sassy Expressiveness of her choreography. In general I really like the style and elegance of the Russian team.
|Miller (left) with teammate Lauren Mitchell|
Gigi: Are their foreign gymnasts you have developed friendship with?
Larrissa: Sometimes it’s difficult to really talk and connect to the other competitors at big events, because everyone is so focus on their task at hand. But I have developed quite a few International Friendships over the years and I think is it really cool to know that I have friends from all over the world.
Gigi: What is the best thing about being a competitive gymnast?
Larrissa: I think the best thing about being a competitive gymnast is all the things my team mates and I go through together. I love nothing more than being part of an elite athlete community where each and every one of us share the same passion.
I believe the bonds that have been created throughout my career are like no other, it is like my team mates and I speak our own language. We all go through very similar thing. We all have the same thoughts, feelings, emotions, trials, tribulations, successes and failures; and that is something that only members of my team could understand.
And then, being able to travel the world with those girls and coaches by my side is incredible; I feel so blessed.
Gigi: Last year, you hit headlines when you came out as a sexual assault survivor. Unfortunately, to this day victim blaming exits which in my opinion can be just as damaging as the sexual abuse itself. When you decided to fight it, bring it to the light and have the animal pay for what he did, were you worried about being victim blamed? Like for example, people saying 'Oh, why after all those years did she decide to do something about it' - ' Why didn't she say no! She must have put herself in a position which led this to happen' - ' Where were her parents' - 'What was she wearing’....etc.
Larrissa: From the time I first gave a formal statement to police back in October 2012, I would lose sleep thinking that no one would believe my story. I had lived my whole life pushing my past to the side that I had never truly acknowledged and dealt with what happened. Sometimes I didn't even believe it all myself, so I didn't know how others would.
I guess to some extent I was afraid of being ‘Blamed’. I always thought I was going to get in trouble, as if I had done something wrong.
Once I opened up to my family I received nothing but support, they never once questioned the legitimacy of what I told them. However on the contrary I was saying all of those thing to myself; “Why didn't I say no?”, “Was I asking for it?”, “I deserved it”, “It was my fault”.
Gigi: Does it hurt you whenever you hear someone blaming the victims of sexual assault? How do you not let it get to you?
Larrissa: It really does, I can’t even begin to image how victims who are blamed for their abuse must feel. I haven’t heard first hand, people blaming victims but I know it happens all to often.
Since going public with my story, I've had many people open up and tell me about their own past. And something that is really common, is self blame; and that truly breaks my heart.
One thing that helped me with my self blame was looking to other abuse victims. I would ask myself “did they deserve it?”, and my answer would always, ALWAYS, be no; so why should I treat myself any different.
Gigi: How did you emotionally toughen up and decided to take a stand and tell your mother about it?
Larrissa: I got to a point where I didn't have any other choice. I was almost 17 and I started to fall victim to depression and well as anxiety, insomnia and PTSD. As much as I tried to hide it, people around me started to notice changes in me. I shut the world out, I hardly ate and I started self harming. My mum and I started fighting a lot because I was so distant, mean and miserable all the time. She thought I was just being a moody teenager.
I knew I couldn't keep going the way I was going, so the first person I opened up to was my sister.
Gigi: Do you think you will ever bring yourself to forgive the assaulter?
Larrissa: This is a tough question for me. I do not hate him, I don't hate anyone in this world as I believe hate is wasteful. I have interpreted ‘forgiveness’ in a lot of different ways, but the one that has resonated most with me is this:
As Oprah Winfrey once said “Forgiveness is giving up the hope, that that past could be any different… Forgiveness is accepting that it HAS happened to you, not accepting that it was OK for it to happen. It is accepting that it has happened, and now what do I do about it..”
Gigi: How do you advise victim of assaults to move on with their lives and heal?
Larrissa: Everyone deals and heals with a traumatic event in their own way, but the best advise I can give to other victims is this:
Tell Someone. Opening up and telling someone about your abuse is one the hardest, most confronting thing for a victim, but living is silence is soul sucking. It will envelope you until you have nothing left. So tell someone. And if the first person you tell doesn't listen tell someone else, and if the next person doesn't listen tell someone else; because eventually you will find someone who listens, cares and makes you glad you broke your silence.
Let yourself feel. The worst thing I did, was ignoring and or mask my feelings. You were hurt, and you need to feel that hurt, before you can even begin to heal.
Talk. For me personally, it didn't and doesn't help to talk about the details of my abuse, but what did help was talking about the feelings that came with what happened to me. I now regularly see a psychiatrist to help me unpack my thoughts.
Don’t be afraid to ask for and accept help. Earlier this year, right before the court case, things got really hard for me. I tried to do it all alone because I felt like a burden to the people around me, and I almost didn't make it. The people in your life, friends, family, doctors etc. are there for you, and they want to be there for you. You just have to let them in.
The last thing I want to say is:
“There is always Hope, so Be Brave and Have Courage”
Gigi: Can you tell us about bravehearts?
Larrissa: Bravehearts is an Australian non-profit Organisation dealing with all facets of Child Sexual Assault. Studies have shown that 1 in 5 Australian Children will be, in some way, sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
Bravehearts’ vision is to Educate, Empower and Protect kid. They have school based programs that teach children from a young age, what is, and what is not appropriate behaviour.
Unfortunately sexual abuse, to some extent is shunned away, because it a difficult thing to talk about. Bravehearts works by continually bringing sexual abuse to the light, to get people talking and raise awareness.
Gigi: How do you see your life in five years?
Larrissa: Looking forward and wondering what my life is going to be like years from now is something that really really scares me!
I am the kind of person who needs to just live in the present moment. That for me right now is Gymnastics, my Family and Friends and just focusing on being happy Larrissa; Being the best version of myself that I can be.
Interview by Gigi Farid