Words by Beth Pratt, News Print Editor

Trigger warning for sexual abuse.

On Tuesday 14th September, a US senate hearing was held, diving deeper into the Larry Nassar abuse scandal that cut through the core of the gymnastics community. The hearing was to highlight the FBI’s failed 2015 investigation into the case.

The FBI is accused of failing to properly investigate allegations that Nassar was abusing athletes in his care. “Children suffered needlessly because multiple agents in multiple offices at the FBI neglected to share the Nassar allegations with their law enforcement counterparts at state and local agencies,” Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said in prepared remarks before the hearing.

Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics doctor, is currently serving an effective life sentence after abusing athletes under the guise of medical treatment. A year after graduating from the University of Michigan in 1985, Larry Nassar joined the US national gymnastics team. According to a lawsuit, it was in 1992 when Nassar committed his first recorded assault but it wasn’t until 1997 when the first complaints about Nassar were received. These were then failed to be investigated further.

Almost ten years later in August 2016, claims against Larry Nassar went public for the first time. By January 2017 eighteen women had filed a lawsuit against Nassar. Nassar had already admitted to molesting seven girls in his care by November. However, it wasn’t until a year later that Nassar was given a jail term of up to 175 years for sexually abusing athletes in his care. A total of 156 girls and women came forward to speak at the seven-day sentencing hearing in 2018, labelling themselves as no longer victims but survivors. Handing down the sentence, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina glared at Nassar and said: “I just signed your death warrant”.

Intertwined within these lawsuits has always been an emphasis not only on the prolific child molester but on the institutions such as USA Gymnastics and the FBI that failed to prevent his behaviour. This summer, the Department of Justice’s Inspector General issued a devastating report that showed how allegations brought forward to the Federal Bureau of Investigation were largely discarded at first. In the time between the initial complaints and when the FBI finally took action, Nassar sexually abused approximately 70 women and girls.

This was most certainly brought to attention at the US senate hearing when gymnasts-turned-survivors Simone Biles, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman told the Senate that their experiences had been downplayed. By initially covering up the investigation and failing to properly document evidence of Nassar’s crimes, the FBI committed second, additional harm against Nassar’s victims: “not only were they abused, but they were insulted and disregarded by those who were supposedly there to help them.”

Simone Biles began her testimony with a quote from Nelson Mandela that: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”. After brief pauses when overcome with emotion before having to state Nassar’s name, Biles continued to express her concern: “I don’t want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured.”

“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” she said. “USA Gymnastics and the United States, Olympic and Paralympic Committee knew that I was abused by their official team doctor long before I was ever made aware of their knowledge.”

McKayla Maroney explained that she told her entire story of abuse to the FBI in the summer of 2015, but it was not reported at the time and later documented inaccurately: “They chose to fabricate. They chose to lie about what I said and protect a serial child molester rather than protect not only me but countless others.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray appeared at the hearing and admitted his agency had failed the survivors of Nassar’s abuse. “I want to be crystal clear: The actions and inaction of the FBI employees detailed in this report are totally unacceptable” he said.

This systemic failure is not unique. Sexual violence is inadequately investigated all over the world and sex crimes are investigated less thoroughly than other kinds of violence.

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