United States Olympic gymnast Simone Biles blasted USA Gymnastics and the FBI for standing by while team doctor Larry Nassar assaulted her and hundreds of other athletes in the largest sexual abuse case in the history of American sports.
“We have been failed and we deserve answers,” Biles said in blunt and tearful testimony at a US Senate public hearing on Wednesday where she appeared with three other athletes, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols.
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“It really feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us,” said Biles, who placed additional blame at the feet of legislators who have oversight over congressionally chartered US Olympic governing bodies.
Maroney echoed Biles’s accusations, recounting how she told “my entire story of abuse to the FBI in the summer of 2015. 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.”
When she recounted abuse that had happened in 2011 at the world championships in Tokyo, where she said Nassar gave her a sleeping pill and then got “on top of me, molesting me for hours,” she tearfully told an FBI agent over the phone.
The FBI agent then asked her “Is that all?” – an answer, she told the Senate committee, that “was one of the worst moments in this entire process for me”.
Biles said she chose to testify “so that no little girl must endure what I, the athletes at this table, and the countless others who needlessly suffered under Nassar’s guise of medical treatment for which we continue to endure today.”
“We suffered and continue to suffer, because no one at FBI, USAG, or the USOPC did what was necessary to protect us,” Biles said.
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a 119-page report in July detailing errors by law enforcement officers that allowed Nassar’s abuse to continue for months. Nassar was convicted in 2017 and 2018 of sex crimes and is serving up to 175 years in prison.
FBI Director Chris Wray told the Senate panel that the actions of the agents who botched the investigation are inexcusable, and he announced that one of the agents “no longer works for the bureau in any capacity.”
“I’m deeply and profoundly sorry,” Wray said.
Wray faced sharp questioning from senators about why FBI agents who botched the probe were never prosecuted for their misconduct.
“The actions and inactions of the FBI employees detailed in (the Inspector General’s) report are totally unacceptable,” Wray said. “These individuals betrayed the core duty that they have of protecting people. They failed to protect young women and girls from abuse.”
Biles, the most decorated gymnast of all time, stunned the Tokyo Games in July when she dropped out of the team competition following a poor opening vault and then decided not to defend her all-around crown. Biles returned to competition a few days later to win a Bronze medal in the individual balance beam contest.
“I believe without a doubt that the circumstances that led to my abuse and allowed it to continue are directly the result of the fact that the organisations created by Congress to oversee and protect me as an athlete, USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, failed to do their jobs,” Biles told the Senate.
The FBI’s investigation into Nassar started in July 2015, after USA Gymnastics President and CEO Stephen Penny reported the allegations to the FBI’s Indianapolis field office and provided agents with the names of three victims willing to be interviewed.
That office, then led by Special Agent in Charge Jay Abbott, did not formally open an investigation. The FBI only interviewed one witness months later in September 2015, and failed to formally document that interview until February 2017 – well after the FBI had arrested Nassar on charges of possessing sexually explicit images of children in December 2016.
When the interview was finally documented in 2017 by an unnamed supervisory special agent, the report was filled with “materially false information and omitted material information,” Horowitz’s report determined.
The FBI Indianapolis office failed to share the allegations with state or local law enforcement agencies.
“It is not only that the FBI failed to do its job, systematically and repeatedly. It is also the cover-up – the cover-up that occurred when FBI agents made materially false statements and deceptive omissions,” Senator Richard Blumenthal said, adding that the Justice Department has declined to prosecute the agents.
“My hope is that the Department of Justice, which was invited today and has declined to appear, will match your courage by explaining why those lies by FBI agents did not lead to criminal prosecution.”
Horowitz also said that Abbott, who retired from the FBI in 2018, had violated the FBI’s conflict of interest policy by discussing a possible job with the US Olympic Committee while he was involved with the Nassar investigation.
Neither Abbott nor the other unnamed supervisory special agent who botched the Nassar probe were prosecuted for their actions.
The FBI previously called Abbott’s behaviour “appalling” and said the supervisory special agent remains with the FBI but is no longer a supervisor and is “not working on any more FBI matters”.
A lawyer for Abbott previously said in a statement he is thankful to prosecutors for bringing Nassar to justice.
Nassar, who had been the main doctor for Olympic gymnasts, was sentenced in federal court in 2017 to 60 years in prison on charges of possessing child sex abuse material.
The following year, he was also sentenced up to 175 years and up to 125 years, respectively, in two separate Michigan courts for molesting female gymnasts under his care. Prosecutors have estimated he sexually assaulted hundreds of women.
A former US Olympics coach with ties to Nassar, John Geddert, killed himself in February, hours after being charged with human trafficking, sexual assault and running a criminal enterprise.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies