A group of Olympic gymnasts, including gold medallists Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, are among dozens of survivors of sexual abuse by sport doctor Larry Nassar who are suing the FBI for more than $1bn, their lawyers have said.
More than 90 survivors of abuse by Nassar planned to file the lawsuit on Wednesday. The move comes two weeks after the Justice Department chose not to prosecute two FBI investigators, despite an internal watchdog report that found the agents failed to properly respond to reports of Nassar’s abuse in 2015, leaving him to assault at least 70 more young athletes.
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“It is time for the FBI to be held accountable,” Maggie Nichols, a national gymnastics champion, said in a statement.
Former University of Michigan gymnast Samantha Roy said: “If the FBI had simply done its job, Nassar would have been stopped before he ever had the chance to abuse hundreds of girls, including me.”
The Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics told local FBI agents in 2015 that three gymnasts said they were assaulted by Nassar, a team doctor who also worked as a sports doctor at Michigan State University. However, the FBI did not open a formal investigation or inform federal or state authorities in Michigan after learning of the allegations, according to the Justice Department’s inspector general.
The inspector general’s report also accused the FBI agent in charge of the Indianapolis field office, W Jay Abbott, of reportedly lying to “minimise errors” in the FBI’s response and of violating policy by discussing job opportunities with a US Olympic Committee official.
Abbott retired in 2018. A second agent investigated by the watchdog was never identified.
Nassar was not arrested until 2016 following an investigation by Michigan State University police. He was later sentenced to decades in prison on child sexual assault and child pornography charges.
The trial in Michigan included wrenching testimony from more than 150 of Nassar’s victims.
“Experiencing a type of abuse is not something one just suffers in the moment, it carries on with them sometimes for the rest of their lives,” Raisman, who won gold medals in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, told the court. “I’ve often wondered am I ever going to feel better?”
In a blistering hearing before a Senate committee investigating the response to the allegations in 2021, Biles said athletes “have been failed and we deserve answers”.
“It really feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us,” said Biles, who is tied for most Olympic medals won by a US gymnast.
For his part, FBI Director Christopher Wray offered his apologies during the hearing.
“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,” he said. “And that’s inexcusable”.
Previous lawsuits have resulted in a $500m payment by Michigan State University, which was also accused of missing chances over many years to stop Nassar, to more than 300 women and girls who were assaulted.
USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee settled with a group of abused athletes for $380m in 2021.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies