WASHINGTON (AP) — Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles tearfully told Congress on Wednesday that the FBI and gymnastics officials “condoned” the sexual abuse of US Gym team doctor Larry Nassar against her and hundreds of women.
“Enough,” Biles told the Senate Judiciary Committee as he and three other U.S. gymnasts spoke in strict emotional terms about the enduring cost to the lives of Nassar’s crimes.
The 2016 Olympic champion and five-time world champion — widely considered the greatest gymnast of all time — said, “I can’t imagine any place where I’d be less comfortable than sitting right here in front of you right now.” She declared herself a victim of sexual abuse.
“I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame the entire system that made and perpetuates his abuse,” Biles said. He said the USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee “knew that I was being abused by the official team doctors long before I became aware of their knowledge”.
Biles said a message needed to be sent: “If you let a predator harm children, the consequences will be swift and severe. It is enough.”
The trial is part of a congressional effort to hold the FBI accountable after many missteps in investigating the case, including delays that allowed Nassar, who is now in prison, to abuse other young gymnasts. An internal investigation released by the Justice Department in July said the FBI made fundamental mistakes in the investigation and did not take the case “extremely seriously” after USA Gymnastics first reported the allegations to the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis in 2015. The FBI admitted that his own behavior was inexcusable. At least 40 girls and women said they were harassed after the FBI became aware of the problem.
McKayla Maroney, another gold medal-winning gymnast, told the senators she found the doctor naked one night when she was 15—she had been abused multiple times. He said he thought he was going to die that evening.
After reporting Nassar, Maroney said the FBI “underestimated and ignored” her, adding that the agency delayed the investigation because other gymnasts were abused.
“I think we’ve all questioned it for so long that we’ve all had doubts about what happened to us because someone else didn’t fully verify us,” Maroney said. “And I think that takes longer to heal.”
Biles and Maroney were joined by another Olympic gold medalist, Aly Raisman, and gymnast Maggie Nichols. Raisman said that six years after the original allegations against Nassar were reported, it still “disgusts me” to seek answers.
“We can’t solve a problem that we don’t understand and understand the problem without knowing all the facts,” Raisman said, noting the traumatic impact of abuse on all of them.
“Being here today takes everything I have,” he said. “My main concern is that I hope I have the energy to get out of here. I don’t think people realize how much it affects us.”
Biles admitted to being among hundreds of athletes harassed by Nassar in January 2018. He is the only witness to compete at this year’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics after a one-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, but who removed himself from the team finals to focus on his mental health. He returned to win the bronze medal in the beam, but told the committee that lasting trauma from his abuse at Nassar’s hands played a factor in his decision to leave several competitions.
Democratic and Republican senators expressed their disgust with the case and said they would continue to investigate. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it was one of the most compelling and heartbreaking testimonies he had ever heard.
“We have work to do and we know it,” Durbin said.
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas said that Congress “must demand real change and real accountability, and we will not be satisfied with platitudes and vague promises about improved performance.” Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, called Nassar a “monster” and wondered how many more abusers have escaped justice, considering that even athletes around the world have been ignored in this case.
FBI Director Christopher Wray and Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who directed the July report, will testify at a second panel after the gymnasts.
Horowitz’s investigation was bolstered by allegations that the FBI did not immediately address complaints filed against Nassar in 2015. USA Gymnastics had conducted its own internal investigation, and Stephen Penny, the organization’s then-president, reported the allegations to the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis. But it was months before the bureau launched an official investigation.
The OIG found that while the allegations against Nassar were “extraordinarily serious”, FBI officials in Indianapolis did not respond “with the utmost seriousness and urgency that the allegations deserve and require.”
The report said that when they responded, FBI officials made “numerous and fundamental mistakes” and violated bureau policies. Missteps included failing to carry out any investigative activity until more than a month after a meeting with USA Gymnastics.
The Observer investigation also found that when the FBI’s Indianapolis field office’s handling of the matter came under scrutiny, officials there did not take any responsibility for missteps and provided incomplete and incorrect information to internal FBI investigations to appear diligent about it. their investigation.
The FBI scolded its own employees who didn’t take action on the case and said “it shouldn’t have happened”.
The report also detailed that W. Jay Abbott, head of the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis, spoke to Penny about getting a job on the Olympic Committee while the FBI was investigating the Nassar allegations. According to the report, he applied for the job but did not get it and later retired from the FBI.
Nassar was charged with federal child pornography crimes and sexual abuse charges in Michigan in 2016.
He is now in prison for decades after he said hundreds of girls and women were sexually abused while working for Michigan State and Indiana-based USA Gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment.
Graves reported from Pittsburgh.