Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, former OU gymnast Maggie Nichols and two other highly decorated female American gymnasts told a Senate panel Wednesday that the actions - and inaction - of the FBI agents handling the sexual abuse complaints against disgraced team doctor Larry Nassar allowed dozens of other girls and young women to be abused before Nassar was finally stopped.
The women all gave powerful and emotional testimony Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is looking into the FBI’s handling of the Nassar investigation.
A report from the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General this summer detailed the FBI’s failure to act on reports it received about Nassar’s abuse of athletes. The report revealed “significant misconduct by at least two FBI agents in the Indianapolis field office who knew of Nassar’s abuse, failed to act and made false and misleading statements in documenting the case and describing their own conduct,” according to a Judiciary Committee summary of the report.
Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) acknowledged there is nothing Congress can do to undo the pain caused by Nassar but told the witnesses his committee is committed to trying to make sure such pain is never trivialized or ignored again.
The hearing, held a day after most Senators went home for the week, grabbed extra attention, in part because of the participation of Biles, the most decorated gymnast, male or female, in history.
“I am also a survivor of sexual abuse,” Biles said in her opening statement.
At the committee’s invitation, Biles and the others testified about their experiences, and bravely shared their thoughts on how the authorities had failed them.
“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar,” said Biles, fighting back tears, “and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.”
That ‘system’, according to the testimony, was comprised of USA Gymnastics (USAG), the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), and the FBI.
“After I reported my abuse to USA Gymnastics,” said OU’s Nichols, “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. We now know that there was no real FBI investigation occurring.”
The head of the FBI, Christopher Wray, wasn't in charge of the agency at the time, but acknowledged the agency's failings during his testimony.
“I and my leadership team are determined to make sure everybody in the FBI is focused on learning from this,” said Director Wray, “so that it doesn’t happen again.”
But the victims say they deserve more. Too many of those who were involved have walked away.
“We suffered and continue to suffer because no one at FBI, USAG or the USOPC did what was necessary to protect us,” said Biles. “We have been failed, and we deserve answers. Nassar's where he belongs, but those who enabled him deserve to be held accountable."