After the FBI spent months doing nothing to stop serial pedophile Larry Nassar, USA Gymnastics athletes issued scathing rebukes of the bureau’s inaction as they testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning.
“I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetuated his abuse,” said Simone Biles, who was abused for years. “I don’t want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete, or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured before, during, and continuing to this day in the wake of the Larry Nassar abuse.”
Olympians Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, and Aly Raisman all testified before the committee to recount their experiences with Nassar, who abused over 300 women during his time as USA Gymnastics’ team doctor. Sens. Richard Durbin and Chuck Grassley demanded a hearing after a July report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the FBI ignored sexual assault allegations against Nassar.
The report, which confirmed that the FBI knew of allegations as early as 2015, condemned the FBI for “[failing] to respond to allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by former USA Gymnastics physician Lawrence Gerard Nassar with the urgency that the allegations required.” In the time it took the FBI to conduct a thorough investigation, Nassar assaulted over 70 young athletes.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday that the “kinds of fundamental errors that were made in this case in 2015 and 2016 should have never happened, period,” and issued an apology to the countless women who were subject to Nassar’s abuse. But the four Olympians who accused the federal agency of mass negligence demanded more than an apology.
“All we are asking for is when a child goes to gymnastics or goes to school or does anything that they can be spared abuse,” Raisman said, including that FBI officials “made me feel my abuse didn’t count,” and even tried to “convince me that it wasn’t that bad.”
Raisman added that “all we needed was for one adult to do the right thing.”
Director Wray said he didn’t have a “good explanation” to offer the hundreds of Nassar victims.
Instead of taking the Nassar allegations seriously, the FBI conducted severely limited follow-up on assault claims, didn’t formally document initial investigations into Nassar allegations, and failed to formally file claims made by at least three Olympic gymnasts. In his opening statement, committee Chairman Richard Durbin called the bombed investigation a “stain on the bureau.”
“In the 15 month period that FBI officials shirked their responsibility, Nassar abused at least 70 young athletes. For many of them this was a continuation, but for others they were abused for the first time while the FBI sat on the case,” he said.
Maggie Nichols, who was the subject of Netflix’s “Athlete A” documentary, was the first gymnast to report Nassar’s misconduct. Nichols wasn’t interviewed by federal investigators until a year after her initial report.
“The coverup of my abuse and the FBI’s failure to interview me for more than a year after my complaint are well-documented in the OIG report. After I reported my abuse to USA Gymnastics, my family and I were told by their former president, Steve Penny, to keep quiet and not say anything that could hurt the FBI investigation,” she said. “We now know there was no real FBI investigation occurring. While my complaints languished with the FBI, Larry Nassar continued to abuse women and girls.”
Wednesday’s bipartisan committee blasted the bureau for not protecting Nassar’s victims. In addition to Nassar’s abuse of Olympic gymnasts, other sexual assault allegations came from athletes at children’s gymnastics club Twistars, the Holt athletic building, and Michigan State University — where he preyed upon young, vulnerable, and now traumatized girls.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal reprimanded the FBI in a post-hearing news conference.
“There were 120 young women who laid before Larry Nassar on his examining table and he did with them whatever he wanted because the FBI did nothing,” Blumenthal said. “Let’s be very clear: The FBI’s inaction led to victimization of the most horrific and hideous kind.”
After the hearing, gymnast Kaylee Lorincz said the FBI could have prevented abuse she endured in February 2016 — if the bureau had done its job.
“Had anyone at the FBI done their job, then I would not be here speaking to you today. Accountability will only occur when the FBI agents who did not do their job face criminal charges. My 2016 abuse is on them. It is five years later, five years of asking the same questions. It’s time for these questions to be answered,” she said.