Gymnasts testify as Congress investigates FBI's handling of Larry Nassar sexual abuse case

·5 min read
Gymnasts testify as Congress investigates FBI's handling of Larry Nassar sexual abuse case

U.S. elite gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman are testifying before Congress Wednesday about what they say were failures in FBI's handling of the sexual abuse case against Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics team doctor.

Nassar, a former doctor, was sentenced in 2018 to up to 175 years in prison are pleading guilty to sexually assaulting hundreds of girls and women.

"We have been failed, and we deserve answers," Biles, the first gymnast to speak, said while fighting back tears during parts of her testimony. "Nassar is where he belongs, but those who enabled him deserve to be held accountable. If they are not, I am convinced that this will continue to happen to others across Olympic sports."

PHOTO: U.S Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, arrive to testify during a Senate Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill, Sept. 15, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Saul Loeb/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: U.S Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, arrive to testify during a Senate Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill, Sept. 15, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Saul Loeb/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Biles and her fellow gymnasts on Wednesday painted a portrait in of a system that's failed them.

"Over the past few years it has become painfully clear how a survivor's healing is affected by the handling of their abuse, and it disgusts me that we are still fighting for the most basic answers and accountability over six years later," said Raisman, who cited failings of USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, in addition to the FBI's.

"It took over 14 months for the FBI to contact me despite my many requests to be interviewed by them," she said. "I felt pressure by the FBI to consent to Nasser's plea deal. The agent diminished the significance of my abuse and made me feel my criminal case wasn't worth pursuing."

Raisman later described the delay in investigating Nassar as "like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter."

Maroney accused the FBI of delaying documenting her claims against Nassar and of making false claims.

"Today," she said to the senators, "I ask you all to hear my voice. I ask you please do all that is in your power to ensure that these individuals are held responsible and accountable for ignoring my initial report, for lying about my initial report and for covering up for a child molester."

Nichols spoke about wanting people to know about those who suffered from Nassar's abuse, saying, "I want everyone to know this did not happen to 'gymnast two' or 'athlete A.' It happened to me, Maggie Nichols."

"I reported my abuse to USA Gymnastics over six years ago and still my family and I received even few answers and had even more questions why this allowed to occur and why dozens of other little girls and women at Michigan State had to be abused after I reported," she said. "In sacrificing my childhood for the chance to compete for the United States, I am haunted by the fact even after I reported my abuse so many women and girls had to suffer at the hands of Larry Nassar."

The hearing was held as the Senate Judiciary Committee is investigating the FBI's handling of the case.

A Justice Department inspector general report released in July found the FBI made "fundamental errors" in its response to allegations against Nassar that were first brought to the agency in July 2015.

The scathing report accuses FBI field offices in Indianapolis and Los Angeles of failing to respond thoroughly to allegations against Nassar, which allowed him to continue to work with gymnasts at Michigan State University as well as at a high school and a gymnastics club in Michigan.

MORE: Simone Biles opens up about depression she suffered after being sexually abused

During the 15 months of alleged inaction by the FBI, Nassar sexually abused at least 70 young athletes, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said at Wednesday's hearing, citing the inspector general's report.

"In reviewing the inspector general's report, it truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us and went out of its way to help protect USAG and USOPC," Biles said before Congress. "A message needs to be sent: If you allow a predator to harm children, the consequences will be swift and severe. Enough is enough."

PHOTO: Gymnast Simone Biles waits during competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo.  (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: Gymnast Simone Biles waits during competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images, FILE)

The FBI responded to the inspector general's report by saying the inaction of those field offices "should not have happened."

"The actions and inactions of certain FBI employees described in the Report are inexcusable and a discredit to this organization," the agency said in a statement at the time, according to The Associated Press.

FBI Director Christopher Wray also is testifying at Wednesday's hearing, as is Michael Horowitz, inspector general of the Justice Department.

During Nassar's trial, more than 150 people provided victim impact statements, including Raisman and Maroney. Biles first publicly said she was sexually abused by Nassar in a statement on Twitter in January 2018, writing, "I am not afraid to tell my story anymore."

MORE: Simone Biles speaks out on new report about flaws in Larry Nassar investigation: 'Numb is becoming a normal feeling'

The gymnasts also have spoken out publicly about how Nassar's abuse and the resulting case have affected their mental health. Biles, a seven-time Olympic medalist, spoke specifically Wednesday about the role the Nassar scandal played in her performance at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer.

She won a silver medal and a bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in July after dropping out of several competitions because of a mental health issue.

"The announcement in the spring of 2020 that the Tokyo Games were to be postponed for a year meant that I would be going to the gym, to training, to therapy, living daily among the reminders of this story for another 365 days," Biles testified. "As I have stated in the past, one thing that helped me push each and every day was the goal of not allowing this crisis to be ignored.

"I worked incredibly hard to make sure that my presence could maintain a connection between the failures and the competition at Tokyo 2020. That has proven to be an exceptionally difficult burden for me to carry, particularly when required to travel to Tokyo without the support of any of my family."

"I am a strong individual and I will persevere," Biles continued, "but I never should have been left alone to suffer the abuse of Larry Nassar, and the only reason I did was because of the failures that lie at the heart of the abuse that you are now asked to investigate."

Gymnasts testify as Congress investigates FBI's handling of Larry Nassar sexual abuse case originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com

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