The gymnast Gabby Douglas has apologized after receiving an avalanche of criticism on social media for what some saw as an attempt to blame other women for becoming victims of sexual abuse.
Responding to her former teammate Aly Raisman — who said on Twitter that women dressing “sexy” does not entitle men to shame or sexually abuse them — Douglas argued that it was incumbent on women “to dress modestly,” “be classy” and not attract “the wrong crowd.”
The Twitter spat, which drew the ire of another former teammate — Simone Biles, who sided with Raisman — bubbled up about a week after Raisman said publicly that she was among the gymnasts who had been sexually abused by their team doctor. The doctor, Lawrence G. Nassar, is facing criminal charges that he molested other gymnasts.
On Friday morning, Raisman — who was the captain of teams that included Douglas and won gold medals for the United States at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics — sent a message on Twitter that included a screenshot of a longer message.
The pictured message said, in part: “Just because a woman does a sexy photo shoot or wears a sexy outfit does not give a man the right to shame her or not believe her when she comes forward about sexual abuse. What is wrong with some of you? AND when a woman dresses sexy it does not give a man the right to sexually abuse her EVER.”
She added: “STOP VICTIM SHAMING. It is because of you that so many survivors live in fear.”
At some point later Friday, Douglas retweeted Raisman’s message, while also posting her own commentary about it.
“It is our responsibility as women to dress modestly and be classy,” she wrote. “dressing in a provocative/sexual way entices the wrong crowd.”
Douglas’ tweet had been deleted as of Friday night. Her representatives did not respond to phone messages or an email from The New York Times late Friday.
Friday night, Biles — who led the Americans to 2016 gold with Raisman and Douglas — posted her own message on Twitter that included a screenshot of Douglas’ critique.
“shocks me that I’m seeing this but it doesn’t surprise me… honestly seeing this brings me to tears bc as your teammate I expected more from you & to support her,” Biles wrote to Douglas. “I support you Aly & all the other women out there! STAY STRONG.”
Biles’ tweet drew thousands of retweets, likes, and a range of replies, many of which pilloried Douglas for failing to support Raisman.
One critic, echoing many others, accused Douglas of “victim blaming,” adding, “I’m shocked and disgusted.”
Douglas replied to that message Friday night, saying that the Twitter user had “misunderstood” her.
“not blaming the victim at all,” she wrote. “no man should look at any woman that way.”
The Twitter user then pressed Douglas, arguing that “instead of calling on women to dress modestly,” Douglas should call on men to respect women.
“It is NOT the woman’s responsibility to make sure she is not assaulted,” the Twitter user added.
Initially, Douglas appeared to stand her ground, replying simply: “it goes both ways.” But about two hours later, she took to Twitter again to apologize and try to clarify her stance.
“i didn’t correctly word my reply & i am deeply sorry for coming off like i don’t stand alongside my teammates,” she wrote. “regardless of what you wear, abuse under any circumstance is never acceptable. i am WITH you. #metoo”
It was not clear how Raisman, 23, felt about Douglas’ comments and the social media firestorm. Her representatives did not respond to an email or phone message seeking comment Friday night.
When Raisman went public with her allegations of sexual abuse, she told “60 Minutes” that she was “angry” and wanted to “create change” so that other young girls “never, ever have to go through this.”
More than 140 women, including athletes who competed at the highest levels of gymnastics, have come forward to say that Nassar had touched them inappropriately during medical appointments.
Nassar is in jail in Michigan, facing 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving at least seven victims. He has denied the charges.