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Simone Biles says FBI ‘turned a blind eye’ to sexual abuse

September 15, 2021, 4:50 PM UTC

Star Olympic gymnast Simone Biles denounced the FBI for turning “a blind eye” to the sexual abuse she and other young athletes suffered at the hands of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar in emotionally powerful testimony before a Senate panel Wednesday. 

“It truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us and went out of its way to protect” the USA Gymnastics organization and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said Biles, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside three other women who were abused by Nassar.

“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetuated his abuse,” Biles said, at times welling up with emotion. This year, Biles won medals at the Olympics in Tokyo while also attracting attention, and widespread praise, for her candor in discussing mental health issues that led her to drop out of some events. 

Nassar was team doctor for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team for almost two decades. More than 100 women accused him of sexual abuse. He was convicted in 2017 on a variety of state and federal charges and is serving sentences that amount to life without parole.

Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney testified that she was “shocked and deeply disappointed” that the FBI failed to initially report her abuse and then lied about it. She described in graphic detail one episode of abuse when she was alone with Nassar.

“Within minutes he had his fingers in my vagina,” she said. As she recounted the assault, an FBI agent asked “Is that all?” as if “my abuse was not enough,” she said. 

“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 than protect not only me but other children.”

The gymnasts, who appeared in person in a time when many congressional witnesses testify virtually, said they summoned the courage to tell their stories publicly in an effort to prevent sexual abuse from happening to young athletes again.

‘FBI dereliction’

Senators blasted the FBI for failing to properly investigate evidence that Nassar sexually abused athletes.

FBI failures in its investigation into Nassar “paint a shocking picture of FBI dereliction of duty and gross incompetence,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said Wednesday at the hearing. 

“Today our focus is on the FBI: How did it fail so badly when it came to Larry Nassar’s victims?” Durbin said. “Make no mistake, egregious failures like this one do not arise out of nowhere.”

Olympian Aly Raisman and collegiate gymnast Maggie Nichols also testified at the hearing on abuse they endured from Nassar.

FBI Director Christopher Wray was set to appear separately later on Wednesday along with Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

A report by Horowitz in July found that senior officials in the Indianapolis Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation failed to respond urgently to allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by Nassar, taking more than a year to gear up its investigation. The investigation occurred before Wray became FBI director.

The report found that the bureau’s Indianapolis office made “fundamental errors” when it did respond to the allegations, didn’t properly document its findings, failed to notify the appropriate FBI field office or state or local authorities of the allegations—and failed to take other steps to mitigate the ongoing threat posed by Nassar.

Horowitz said in testimony prepared for Wednesday’s hearing that FBI agents “betrayed their law enforcement responsibilities and their duties to these victims. As our report further details, Larry Nassar’s abuses very well could and should have been stopped sooner, if appropriate action had been taken by the FBI in response to the courageous actions of these athletes.”

Durbin and the gymnasts who testified faulted the Justice Department for declining to prosecute any of the FBI personnel who failed to act—including one who sought a position with the U.S. Olympic Committee during the investigation, according to the report by Horowitz. They also criticized the department for declining to send a witness to Wednesday’s hearing. 

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