15 September (UPI) — In emotional testimony before Congress on Wednesday, four American gymnasts told stories about their experience with former Team USA physician Larry Nassar, who is now in prison for sexually abusing multiple women in his care.
Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, MacKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman and former national team member Maggie Nichols speak during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to investigate the FBI’s handling of the Nassar investigation.
The gymnasts told lawmakers they were disappointed with how their charges were received.
“I do not want any other young gymnast, Olympic athlete, or anyone else to experience the horrors that I and hundreds of others have endured before, during, and today,” Biles said in her opening statement. “I blame Larry Nassar — and I also blame a whole system that perpetrated his abuse.”
Wednesday’s hearing is a direct result of a report earlier this summer by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, which found “multiple and fundamental” investigative failures by the FBI in the case.
Nassar is serving a prison sentence of 40 to 175 years after pleading guilty to charges of child pornography and tampering with evidence in 2017 and sexual assault of a minor in 2018. More than 150 female athletes have said that Nassar abused them under the guise of treatment.
On Wednesday, athletes said the FBI and USA Gymnastics had known about the abuse for years but still allowed Nassar access to young gymnasts. Raisman said there should be a full-scale investigation of USA Gymnastics, the sport’s governing body, the body’s Paralympic branch, and the FBI.
“We can’t fix the problem we don’t understand,” she said, speaking with an FBI agent who downplayed her allegations and her overall traumatic experience.
Maroney said some in USA Gymnastics and law enforcement doubted his claims — and effectively forced gymnasts to question their experiences.
“To reach out to other survivors and hear their stories, continues to help me heal,” Maroney said.
All four athletes at the hearing said they knew of fellow gymnasts who were being abused – even though the FBI had been informed of the allegations against Nassar.
“I can’t tell you how awful it is to meet young girls who look at me and see me competing in the Olympics and tell me they went to see Nassar because of me and my teammates and they went to see the Olympic doctor. wanted to see,” Raisman said. “He thought it was great to have a doctor like us.
“It takes everything I do to not take the blame for it.”
Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the Nassar scandal is “every parent’s nightmare” and that the system failed him.
The FBI’s field offices took complaints related to Nassar in early 2016, the Horowitz report noted, and the bureau’s Indianapolis field office interviewed only one of three athletes that were made available to them. They also failed to transfer the case to the Lansing, Michigan, office after asking officials to do so and failing to notify local officials.
Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement ahead of Wednesday’s hearing that “the FBI’s failure in this case resulted in more athletes being victimized.”
“This committee has the responsibility of overseeing the Federal Bureau of Investigation — and will conduct hearings to investigate this injustice and prevent similar tragedies in the future.”
“The FBI holds the American people responsible for their failure to protect these children and plans to do better in the future,” ranking committee member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement.
A committee representing USA Gymnastics and survivors announced last week that they had agreed a $425 million settlement that could end the long-running saga. The settlement must be approved by a majority of the bankruptcy creditors and victims.
Horowitz and FBI Director Christopher Wray were also due to testify at Wednesday’s hearing.