The FBI, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee came under withering attack in testimony at a U.S. Senate hearing on the sex abuse carried out by the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics.
The hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee is the latest to be held on Capitol Hill since the scandal unraveled in 2016. In what is regarded as the largest known case of athlete sex abuse in the annals of sport, disgraced team doctor Larry Nassar assaulted hundreds of girls and women across decades while a member of the staff of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. He is in federal prison, serving sentences that should last for the rest of his life.
Four survivors of Nassar’s abuse, perhaps the most prominent, delivered candid, emotional testimony in a two-hour hearing. Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman each took turns to accuse USA Gymnastics and the USOPC of failing to act when allegations against Nassar began to be made. Nichols was among the first to report abuse by Nassar to USA Gymnastics in 2015.
“USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee betrayed me from the day I reported,” Nichols said. She accused both organizations for failing to pursue the allegations, along with the FBI.
Fighting back tears, Biles said she blames “an entire system” for ignoring the harm Nassar inflicted upon her and others. Naming USA Gymnastics and the USOPC, she said both organizations knew about the investigation of Nasser before she found out he was under suspicion.
“How much is a little girl worth? We suffer and continue to suffer because of the FBI, USAG and the USOPC. The impact of this man’s abuse [is] never over,” said Biles.
Aly Raisman told the Senate hearing about her abuse by Nasser in London during the 2012 Olympics.
“It was like serving innocent children up to Nasser on a silver platter,” Raisman said.
Maroney reported Nassar’s abuse to the FBI in 2015. She told the Senate panel that included being assaulted for hours in a trip to Tokyo.
“I told the FBI all of this, and they chose to falsify my report, and to not only minimize my abuse but silence me yet again. It took them 14 months to report anything, when Larry Nassar, in my opinion, should have been in jail that day.”
The hearing follows release of a report from the Inspector General of the FBI that found fault with the way the case against Nassar was handled. Both inspector general Michael Horowitz and FBI Director Christopher Wray testified after the gymnasts. Both said there was no excuse for the FBI failures.
One of the field agents who handled the case initially was fired this month by the bureau as a result of his actions, which included falsifying information supplied to the inquiry. Another agent on the case who had applied for the post of head of security for the U.S. Olympic Committee while investigating the abuse charges, retired from the FBI in 2018.
Horowitz said the behavior was a clear conflict of interest prohibited by FBI policy. But with the agent’s retirement, Horowitz said the FBI has no ability to punish the agent, who was the former chief of the Indianapolis field office where USA Gymnastics is located.
Peppered by questions from senators about preventing a similar breakdown by the FBI, Wray said many changes have been put into effect that “double check, triple check and even quadruple check” procedures. Wray was not at the FBI during the initial phases of the gymnastics inquiry.
“On no planet is the way this was handled acceptable,” Wray offered to the committee panel. He says the lessons learned from this case will be long remembered, pledging that it will not happen again.
Committee chair Richard Durbin (D-Ill) was harsh in his appraisal of the FBI’s performance.
“The FBI’s handling of the Nassar case is a stain on the bureau, a shocking picture of FBI dereliction of duty and gross incompetence.”
Durbin also rebuked the Justice Department for not sending officials to the hearing. He wants to hear why the decision was made not to prosecute either of the FBI agents singled out by the FBI report.
Asked about what the four gymnasts want to see happen next, Raisman and others called for a full investigation of the handling of the case. She said “survivors need to be in the room, to be part of the change we so desperately want. We have been treated as adversaries,” Raisman testified.
A settlement with USA Gymnastics and the USOPC with hundreds of survivors of the Nassar scourge is still in negotiations. The amount of the award is said to be $425 million.
For its part, the USOPC issued a statement pledging to deliver changes sought to protect athletes.
“The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) is grateful to the victims and survivors for their continued courage and leadership. USOPC remains completely dedicated to the safety and well-being of our athletes. In cooperation with all U.S. National Governing Bodies, USOPC has taken extensive steps to combat sexual abuse, support survivors and athletes and strengthen protections for amateur athletes against any form of abuse. In 2018 the USOPC board commissioned the law firm Ropes & Gray to conduct a fully independent and exhaustive investigation. That report led to significant reforms to prevent such reprehensible acts from ever occurring again. That is work we will continue to do every day, in every part of our work,” says the USOPC statement.