Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast in history and one of the greatest athletes in the world, said that she could not imagine anything more agonizing than testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about the FBI’s mishandling of a massive sexual abuse case.
On Wednesday, however, Biles, along with three other elite gymnasts, did just that—offering lengthy testimony about their sexual abuse at the hands of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. They detailed precisely how he had preyed upon them as children, and demanded accountability for the individuals and institutions that enabled his crimes. In an emotional opening statement, Biles recounted the suffering she endured, flatly stating that USA Gymnastics, or USAG, and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, USOPC, had “failed to do their jobs.”
“To be clear. I blame Larry Nassar, but I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” Biles said. She and hundreds of women were molested by Nassar, who is now in prison for multiple sex crimes.
Wednesday’s hearing was a stinging indictment of how two of the most powerful sports organizations in the country and the nation’s leading domestic investigative agency failed hundreds of children. The athletes’ accounts raised questions about how and why Nassar’s behavior was allowed to go unchecked, and more generally about how young women are treated by those in power when they come forward with allegations of abuse.
The testimony from Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, and Aly Raisman comes after the office of the inspector general for the Justice Department released a report in July detailing how the FBI mishandled the case against Nassar, by not responding to the allegations of misconduct “with the urgency that the allegations required” and failing “to take other steps to mitigate the ongoing threat posed by Nassar.”
“We suffered and continue to suffer, because no one at FBI, USAG, or the USOPC did what was necessary to protect us,” Biles said in her opening statement. “We have been failed, and we deserve answers. 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.”
The inspector general’s report also found that the special agent in charge and the supervisory special agent “made materially false statements” to the office of the inspector general about an interview with one of Nassar’s victims—Maroney, although she wasn’t named in the report. Maroney testified in her opening statement that she had conducted an interview with the FBI in 2015, which was not published until nearly a year and a half later, and that the summary of the interview contained false statements.
In harrowing detail, Maroney described her interview with FBI agents, to whom she disclosed her abuse before she had even told her mother. She told them of how Nassar had given her a sleeping pill on a trip to Tokyo and then molested her that night.
“That evening, I was naked, completely alone, with him on top of me, molesting me for hours. I told them I thought I was going to die that night because there was no way that he would let me go. But he did,” Maroney said she described to the FBI. The agents who interviewed her did not report her account, and Nassar’s abuse continued unchecked.
“Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report, 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said,” Maroney said. “They chose to lie about what I said and protect a serial child molester rather than protect not only me but countless others.”
Nichols testified about how she reported Nassar to USA Gymnastics in 2015, but the FBI did not reach out to her for more than a year afterward.
“While my complaints languished with the FBI, Larry Nassar continued to abuse women and girls. During this time, the FBI issued no search warrants and made no arrests,” she said. Each of the four witnesses later testified that they personally knew of other girls who were molested by Nassar after 2015. The FBI did not officially open an investigation into Nassar until late 2016.
In a press conference after the hearing, Taylor Lorincz, another gymnast who had been abused by Nassar, said that her last appointment with him was in 2016.
“Let me be clear: I should not be here,” Lorincz said. “Had anyone at the FBI done their job, I would not be here today.”
During the hearing and in the press conference afterward, Raisman repeatedly called for an investigation into USAG and USOPC, as well as the FBI.
“Without knowing who knew what when, we cannot identify all enablers or determine whether they are still in positions of power. We just can’t fix a problem we don’t understand, and we can’t understand the problem unless and until we have all of the facts,” she said during the hearing. When asked what justice would look like to Nassar’s victims, Biles added, “We also want to see them at least be federally prosecuted to the fullest extent because they need to be held accountable.”
Raisman said that it took the FBI more than 14 months to interview her about her allegation, despite her previous requests. She condemned the three organizations for allowing Nassar to continue his work and abuse more than 100 new victims.
“It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter,” said Raisman.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was not leading the agency when the investigation began, said that he was “deeply and profoundly sorry” to all the women and girls whose allegations had not been thoroughly investigated. He said that he had been “heartsick and furious” to learn of the details of the case when he ascended to his current position in 2017.
“I’m especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed, and that is inexcusable. It never should have happened, and we’re doing everything in our power to make sure it never happens again,” Wray said. He testified that the FBI was already incorporating reforms recommended by the inspector general’s report, and that he was “going to make damn sure everybody at the FBI remembers what happened here in heartbreaking detail.”
Wray said that the supervisory special agent implicated in the inspector general’s report had been fired, but the special agent in charge—W. Jay Abbott, the highest-ranking official in the Indianapolis field office—had retired before the inspector general’s review began, leaving the FBI with “little disciplinary recourse.” When asked how the FBI could have mishandled the case so grievously, Wray replied, “I don’t have an explanation for you.”
In the press conference after the hearing, Jessica Howard, one of Nassar’s victims who had not testified Wednesday, said that she would like to see indictments of those involved.
“If there are no indictments, and there is nobody being arrested, and the people that have become accessories to trafficking us and then handing us on a silver platter to Larry Nassar are not held to account—I don’t know what today was for. But today was for something, and I believe that those things will begin to happen,” Howard said.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who held the press conference along with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, said that he would be demanding more from the FBI and from the Justice Department, which had declined to participate in Wednesday’s hearings.
“I am by no means satisfied with what I heard today,” Blumenthal said. Raisman also said that by not sending a representative to the hearing, the Justice Department was sending the message that it didn’t care about child abuse.
If the hearing and subsequent press conference were an indictment of the organizations that condoned Nassar’s abuse, they also highlighted the toll of the trauma inflicted on these women.
“As the lone competitor in the recent Tokyo Games who was a survivor of this horror, I can assure you that the impacts of this man’s abuse are not over or forgotten,” Biles said during her opening statement. “I am a strong individual, and I will persevere, but I never should have been left alone to suffer the abuse of Larry Nassar.”
Raisman, who took the lead on answering many of the questions by senators on the panel, talked about the long-term physical effects of abuse, such as exhaustion.
“Being here today is taking everything I have. My main concern is, I hope I have the energy even to just walk out of here. I don’t think you realize how much it affects us, how much the PTSD, how much the trauma impacts us,” Raisman said.