Four elite U.S. gymnasts appeared Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about the investigation into former USA Gymnastics team doctor and convicted child predator Larry Nassar, and to call for accountability for FBI agents and others who failed to stop his abuse.
Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast of all time, said through tears that the FBI and gymnastics officials turned “a blind eye” to the abuse. She added that gymnastics officials “knew that I was abused by their official team doctor long before I was ever made aware of their knowledge.”
“I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetuated his abuse,” Biles said while testifying alongside three other gymnasts who were also abused by Nassar.
“We suffered and continue to suffer because no one at the FBI, (USA Gymnastics) or the (United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee) did what was necessary to protect us.”
McKayla Maroney, who won two medals as part of the Fierce Five at the 2012 Olympics in London, said she felt “completely betrayed” by investigators, who “chose to silence me and attempted to discredit me.” She and other athletes referenced a report released in July by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, which found that senior officials in the FBI’s Indianapolis field office failed to take allegations of Nassar’s abuse seriously when they learned of them in July 2015.
“By not taking immediate action from my report, they allowed a child molester to go free for more than a year, and this inaction directly allowed Nassar’s abuse to continue,” she said. “They had legal, legitimate evidence of child abuse and did nothing.”
Biles, Maroney, three-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman and 2015 World Championships gold medalist Maggie Nichols told senators that they all knew of other girls who were abused by Nassar after the FBI first learned of the abuse in 2015. Raisman said she suffers with guilt because she’s spoken to girls who have said they went to Nassar because they looked up to her and “they wanted to see the Olympic doctor.”
“It takes everything I have to work on not taking the blame for that, because … it’s horrific,” she said. “It’s horrible to meet them and to know that over 100 victims could have been spared the abuse, if all we needed was one adult to do the right thing.”
Nichols said she and her coach reported Nassar to USA Gymnastics leadership in 2015, after which her “Olympics dreams ended” as she was treated differently by the organization from then forward.
“In sacrificing my childhood for the chance to compete for the United States, I am haunted by the fact that even after I reported my abuse, so many women and girls had to needlessly suffer at the hands of Larry Nassar,” she said. “USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the FBI have all betrayed me and those who were abused by Larry Nassar after I reported.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray also appeared Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and apologized to Nassar’s victims. He acknowledged that he didn’t have a good explanation for the bureau’s handling of the investigation, which he called “totally unacceptable.”
“These individuals betrayed the core duty that they have of protecting people,” Wray said. “They failed to protect young women and girls from abuse. The work we do certainly is often complicated and uncertain — we’re never going to be perfect, but the kinds of fundamental errors that were made in this case in 2015 and 2016 should never have happened. Period. As long as I’m FBI director, I’m committed to doing everything in my power to make sure they never happen again.”
Jay Abbott, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis office in 2015, has since retired, according to The Wall Street Journal. A supervisory special agent who failed to properly investigate the case and later lied about it has since been fired, Wray said.
Democratic and Republican senators expressed disgust over the case and said they would continue to investigate. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said it was among the most compelling and heartbreaking testimony he had ever heard.
“We have a job to do and we know it,” he said.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn, of Texas, said Congress must “demand real change, and real accountability, and we will not be satisfied by platitudes and vague promises about improved performance” from federal law enforcement. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., called Nassar a “monster” and wondered how many other abusers have escaped justice, considering that even world-class athletes were ignored in this case.
After the hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., praised Biles, Maroney, Raisman and Nichols for their courage and strength in testifying Wednesday.
“We need accountability, still,” he said. “That is why this hearing should be followed by another, and I believe it will be, that will involve the Department of Justice coming before our committee and explaining why there has been no criminal prosecution here despite a referral, twice, for criminal prosecution by the inspector general.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.