Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles, and McKayla Maroney are among the champion Olympians subject to years of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, a former doctor for USA Gymnastics and sports medicine physician at Michigan State University. In 2018, Nassar pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct and child pornography charges, receiving up to 175 years in prison; as his sentencing judge said, “I just signed your death warrant.” Nassar is but one example of men in power using their positions to exploit victims. But unlike Cosby’s mistrial (an instance of a high profile man in power escaping sexual assault allegation), Nassar’s 175-year sentence should be a success story 一 a reason for hope. Right? The Justice Department’s inspector general is arguing otherwise.
In the DOJ’s review of the FBI’s handling of the Nassar case, evidence of failures on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has emerged. According to the inspector general, the FBI not only failed to effectively investigate sex abuse allegations against Nassar but also “that FBI officials gave misleading or false answers when confronted about those failures.”
The Inspector General now accuses the FBI of failing to act with the “utmost seriousness and urgency” in response to allegations brought against Nassar. The timeline certainly supports these claims. A report was reviewed by the FBI’s Indianapolis field office in July 2015, yet an investigation wasn’t opened into the allegations until October 2016. The investigation only occurred in response to further requests by USA Gymnastics which filed a renewed complaint after “months of inactivity in Indianapolis.”
This 14-month gap was an additional 14 months that Nassar was unrestricted in his position of power, continuing to abuse his power within USA Gymnastics to assault young women. In these 14 months, “at least 40 girls and women said they were molested.” The report from the inspector general continues to criticize not only the FBI’s urgency, but its process of investigation – claiming the FBI made “numerous and fundamental errors.” Even after taking on the case, the FBI did not conduct any investigative activities. Moreover, once investigative procedures began, agents only interviewed, by phone, one of the three athletes who were available to meet.
The bureau has since admitted its mistakes, saying in a statement that “The actions and inactions of certain FBI employees described in the report are inexcusable and a discredit to this organization.” While accountability is necessary, the FBI’s apology is retroactive and shines a light on the difficulty for victims to come forward with their stories of sexual assault. Even in the case of Nassar, who had multiple accusers and was identified in a USA Gymnastics internal investigation, authorities were hesitant to act. The FBI has attempted to eliminate the chances for these failures in the future, creating outlines as to when allegations should be referred to state and local officials and keeping more detailed documentation of information exchanges between field offices. But when the nation’s top investigative bureau fails to address a clear case of serial sexual assault, confidence in the ability of local law enforcement to investigate sexual assault is certainly diminished. Speaking out is already surrounded by a stigma that makes victims fearful, and the horrendous mishandling of cases when individuals do come forward perpetuates an environment that discourages people from doing so. The U.S. is, at the highest level, failing to protect victims from repeat abusers and must make a decisive effort to change that reality.