Gymnasts including Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Simone Biles gave heart-wrenching testimony on Wednesday during a Senate hearing that reviewed the FBI’s botched 2015 investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse against former USA Gymnastic team doctor Larry Nassar.
“These individuals clearly violated policies and were negligent in executing their duties, and in doing so, more girls were abused by Larry Nassar for over a year,” Maroney said in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“To not indict these agents is a disservice to me and my teammates; it is a disservice to the system which was built to protect all of us from abuse; it was a disservice to every victim who suffered needlessly at the hands of Larry Nassar after I spoke up,” added Maroney, who was the first gymnast to speak with the FBI. “Why are public servants, whose job is to protect, getting away with this?”
Nassar, who is effectively serving life in prison for sexually abusing hundreds of child athletes, was reported to the FBI in 2015 by multiple gymnasts. Two Indianapolis-based FBI agents, however, did not take any action until more than a year later. A Department of Justice report published in July revealed that the FBI office in Indianapolis had made “fundamental errors” while investigating Nassar, including concealing and fabricating information in their reports to FBI Headquarters about their interviews with Nassar’s victims.
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz said the fabricated statements created by the two FBI agents “could have actually jeopardized the criminal investigations by including false information that could have bolstered Nassar’s defense.”
Nassar abused at least 70 young athletes in the 15 months the FBI should have been investigating complaints, senators said Wednesday during the hearing.
One of the senior field agents, special agent Jay Abbott, went so far as to seek a job at USA Gymnastics while supposedly investigating Nassar. One of the agents was fired for his misconduct; Abbott, the more senior of the two, was allowed to retire in 2018.
FBI Director Christopher Wray testified Wednesday that Abbott was able to retire, “much to my frustration,” before the agent’s misconduct was revealed.
Full opening statement: At Senate hearing, McKayla Maroney describes reporting abuse by Larry Nassar “in extreme detail” to the FBI in 2015:
“What is the point of reporting abuse if our own FBI agents are going to take it upon themselves to bury that report in a drawer?” pic.twitter.com/TOjUSgVx9R
— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 15, 2021
Maroney, Raisman, Biles and fellow gymnast Maggie Nichols, who all testified Wednesday morning, were serially sexually abused by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment. During testimony, they called out several institutions affiliated with Nassar — including USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Michigan State University — for failing to protect them and other young athletes.
“I ask that your work be guided by the question that Rachael Denhollander and many others have asked: ‘How much is a little girl worth?’” Biles said, referring to the first woman to report Nassar, before breaking down in tears.
“I sit before you today to raise my voice so that no little girl must endure what I, the athletes at this table, and the countless others who needlessly suffered under Nassar’s guise of medical treatment which we continue to endure today,” Biles added. “We have been failed and we deserve answers. Nassar is where he belongs, but those who enabled him deserve to be held accountable.”
Why are public servants, whose job is to protect, getting away with this?
McKayla Maroney, olympic gymnast
The FBI joins a long list of organizations that have prioritized gold medals and money above children’s safety, Raisman said.
“Just as it is naive to assume the problem only rests with Nassar, it is unrealistic to think we can grasp the full extent of culpability without understanding how and why USAG and the USOPC chose to ignore abuse for decades,” she said. “And why the interplay among these three organizations led the FBI to disregard our reports of abuse.”
Raisman called for truth and transparency in Nassar investigations, a demand that survivors have been making for the last five years.
“We just can’t fix a problem we don’t understand,” she said. “And we can’t understand the problem unless and until we have all the facts.”
An emotional Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who was a leader in the congressional investigation into Nassar, said the “FBI’s failure to act had real, human consequences,” adding that it was “the ultimate abuse of authority.”
“I felt pressured by the FBI to consent to Nassar’s plea deal,” Aly Raisman says on the FBI’s handling of the Larry Nassar investigation.
“The FBI and others within both USAG and USOPC knew that Nassar molested children and did nothing to restrict his access.” pic.twitter.com/Mzq2NElmQ9
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) September 15, 2021
Wray, who assumed his role as FBI director in 2017 after the Nassar investigation, addressed senators and the survivors in the room in what appeared to be a genuine statement.
“I want to be crystal clear: The actions and inaction of the FBI employees detailed in this report are totally unacceptable,” he said. “These individuals betrayed the core duty that they have of protecting people. They failed to protect young women and girls from abuse.”
“I’d like to make a promise to the women who appeared here today and to all survivors of abuse. I am not interested in simply addressing this wrong and moving on,” he added later. “It’s my commitment to you that I and my entire senior leadership team are going to make damn sure that everybody at the FBI remembers what happened here in heartbreaking detail. We need to remember the pain that occurred when our folks failed to do their jobs.”
Several lawmakers, including Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), demanded to know why the Department of Justice did not recommend the two FBI agents be prosecuted for their actions.
“When we asked them [the Department of Justice] to bring somebody in to explain this today, they refused and said they wouldn’t attend,” Durbin said. “I understand that it’s procedure in the department not to go into the basis for deciding not to pursue prosecution but this is —on its face — obvious that these agents not only were derelict in their duty when it came to these young women but also did their best to cover up what happened.”
Horowitz repeatedly pivoted when asked such questions, explaining that the department does not make formal recommendations to prosecutors on such matters.
In one of the most poignant moments of the hearing, Raisman spoke about how a victim’s healing process is affected by those investigating the abuse.
“Being here today is taking everything I have,” she said. “My main concern is, I hope I have the energy even to just walk out of here. I don’t think people realize how much it affects us, how much the PTSD, the trauma impacts us.”
“I’ve often wondered: Am I ever going to feel better?”
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.
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