WASHINGTON, D.C. (KXAN) — In emotional, searing detail, Simone Biles and several of the nation’s most decorated Olympic gymnasts blasted federal authorities for mishandling the investigation into the sexual abuse they suffered by former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar.
Biles joined her 2016 Olympic teammates, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, to speak Wednesday morning to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The hearing also included testimony from gymnast Maggie Nichols. The four shared their experiences with the senators, who are examining missteps made by the FBI while agents looked into the sexual abuse allegations.
“I don’t want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured before, during and continuing to this day in the wake of the Larry Nassar abuse,” Biles said, pausing to collect herself. “To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.”
The hearing specifically focused on an inspector general’s report released in July, which revealed the FBI made “fundamental” errors in investigating sexual abuse allegations against Nassar and did not treat the case with the “utmost seriousness.” The senators claimed Wednesday as many as 70 athletes said they were molested before the FBI swung into action.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said at the beginning of the hearing law enforcement had “obviously catastrophic failures” in this particular case.
“If the FBI did so little in the investigation involving world class athletes, what hope can an average American have, what faith can they have in the system?” Cornyn said.
Biles told the committee USA Gymnastics (USAG) and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) deserve to undergo an independent investigation that delves as deeply as the FBI’s inspector general probe.
“How much is a little girl worth? I sit before you today to raise my voice 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, which we continue to endure today,” Biles said. “We suffer and continue to suffer, because no one at FBI, USAG or the USOPC did what was necessary to protect us. We have been failed, and we deserve answers. Nassar is where he belongs, but those who enabled him deserve to be held accountable.”
The inspector general’s investigation was spurred by allegations the FBI failed to promptly address complaints made in 2015 against Nassar. USA Gymnastics had conducted its own internal investigation, and then the organization’s then-president, Stephen Penny, reported the allegations to the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis. However, it took months before the bureau opened a formal investigation.
At least 40 girls and women said they were molested over a 14-month period while the FBI was aware of other sexual abuse allegations involving Nassar. Officials at USA Gymnastics also contacted FBI officials in Los Angeles in May 2016 after eight months of inactivity from agents in Indianapolis.
During her testimony Wednesday, McKayla Maroney said she first spoke to the FBI in the summer of 2015 and explained how she detailed the sexual abuse she suffered by Nassar during an hours-long phone call.
“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,” Maroney said. “They chose to lie about what I said and protect a serial child molester, rather than protect not only me but countless others,” she added.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, criticized how the FBI conducted initial interviews with these gymnasts and suggesting more reforms are needed related to how agents handle young victims of sexual abuse. That statement made Maroney start to cry at the witness table.
Aly Raisman repeated her call for an independent investigation into USAG and the USOPC, saying their failure to report Nassar’s abuse and further prevent it means they are “not to be trusted.”
“Nassar found more than 100 new victims to molest [in his various roles]. It was like serving children up to a pedophile on a silver platter,” Raisman said. “Why did none of these organizations warn anyone?”
In her testimony, Biles also connected the sexual abuse she suffered to the mental health issues that sidelined her during a portion of the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer.
“One thing that helped me push each and every day was the goal of not allowing this crisis to be ignored,” she told the senators. “I worked incredibly hard to make sure my presence could maintain a connection between the failures and the competition at Tokyo 2020. That has proven to be an exceptionally difficult burden for me to carry, particularly when required to travel to Tokyo without the support of any of my family. I am a strong individual, and I will persevere. But I never should have been left alone to suffer the abuse of Larry Nassar, and the only reason I did was because of the failures that lie at the heart of the abuse that you are now asked to investigate.”
Senators said the women are a continuous source of inspiration, especially after their willingness to share their experiences in front of Congress and the country.