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Simone Biles fights the system

September 16, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! USWNT finally gets the same contract as men, Canva is the world’s most valuable woman-led startup, and gymnasts deliver powerful testimony about the FBI’s failures in the Larry Nassar case. Have a good Thursday.

– Fighting the system. There are obvious villains in the #MeToo movement—Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and Larry Nassar chief among them. But we know that such perpetrators don’t necessarily act on their own; the worlds in which they and other abusers operate include apparatuses that enable their actions and silence victims. There are non-disclosure agreements that women are forced to sign, HR departments more invested in protecting corporations than individuals, and close associates who hide or even facilitate the wrongdoing as a means of maintaining power.

But few systems have failed victims as spectacularly as the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the Nassar case, as four elite gymnasts testified yesterday. An inspector general’s report in July found that the FBI had botched the investigation into Nassar, the one-time team doctor for USA women’s gymnastics who’s currently serving what amounts to a life sentence for multiple sex crimes. FBI agents essentially sat on the allegations against Nassar for more than a year, a period in which he molested between 70 and 120 young athletes.

“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, but I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.

US-POLITICS-OLY-SPORTS-HEARING
Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Maggie Nichols arrive to testify about the FBI handling of the Larry Nassar case on Sept. 15, 2021, in Washington, DC.
Graeme Jennings—POOL / AFP

The testimony of four Nassar victims—Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Maggie Nichols—shed light on what the FBI’s shortcomings meant for the women who were subject to his abuse.

Maroney delivered an especially gut-wrenching speech about her experience with Nassar and about how an FBI agent failed to document her allegations against Nassar in 2015. When the agent finally wrote a report 17 months later, he falsified her account, she says.

“They chose to lie about what I said and protect a serial child molester rather than protect not only me but countless others,” she said.

“The FBI made me feel like my abuse didn’t count and that it wasn’t real,” Raisman said.

Biles seemed to tie the trauma of her abuse to her experience at the Tokyo Olympics, where she withdrew from several events, citing her mental health. “The scars of this horrific abuse continue to live with all of us,” she said.

FBI director Christopher Wray, who took over the agency in 2017, apologized to the gymnasts and said the department was taking steps to ensure such misconduct doesn’t happen again. But the athletes and the senators who heard their accounts haven’t gotten answers from the Justice Department as to why the FBI agents in the case aren’t facing criminal charges.

“We all deserve more than just words,” Raisman said.

What was maybe most striking is that the four women showed up on Wednesday even though Nassar will spend the rest of his life behind bars; prior testimony from some of these same gymnasts helped put him there. They didn’t want to be at the hearing. “I can imagine no place that I would be less comfortable right now than sitting here in front of you, sharing these comments,” Biles said. But they publicly told their excruciating stories again because they know it’s not enough to have a single bad actor—however monstrous—in jail when the system that enabled him remains unchanged.

Claire Zillman
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@clairezillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Equal contracts. The U.S. Soccer Federation will in the future offer the same contracts to men's and women's teams as U.S. Women's National Team players continue to speak out about unequal pay. The federation says it believes the best path forward for all athletes is a "single pay structure." CNBC

- Fund two. Inspired Capital, the venture firm run by Alexa von Tobel and former Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, closed a $281 million second fund, following its $200 million debut fund. The duo are interested in backing early-stage startups in the U.S. and beyond. TechCrunch

- Design this. Canva is officially the world's most valuable woman-led startup. The design business raised $200 million in funding, valuing the company led by cofounder and CEO Melanie Perkins at $40 billion. Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Clubhouse hired NPR arts desk senior editor Nina Gregory as its first head of news and media publishers. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Court case. A Beijing court threw out a sexual harassment case brought against a TV anchor, which was seen as a landmark case for the #MeToo movement in China. Zhou Xiaoxuan, or Xianzi, who brought forward the allegation said of the court's decision and the legal process: "These last three years of my life have been so tough, I can't do another three years." Anchor Zhu Jun has denied the claims. BBC

- Election issue. National elections will take place in Russia this weekend, and domestic violence could be an issue of importance to voters. Vladimir Putin's ruling party, United Russia, has rolled back protections for women against violence in recent years, activists say—and middle-aged women make up a significant voting bloc for the party. New York Times

- Dangerous advertising. A new report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate finds that Facebook and Google have both allowed advertisements for dangerous "abortion pill reversal." The ads have been shown more than 18 million times next to search results like "unwanted pregnancy" and "abortion pill." Facebook says it's removed ads that violated its policies, and Google hasn't responded to request for comment. Guardian

ON MY RADAR

Gabrielle Union thinks you're ready for the heavy stuff Vanity Fair

Barbara Lee’s long quest to curb presidential war powers faces a new test New York Times

'Men’s rights Asians' think this is their moment Slate

PARTING WORDS

"It also sends a simple yet powerful message to underrepresented people everywhere: Dream big because anything is possible."

-Gymnast Nastia Liukin writing about Sunisa Lee—and her milestone as the first Hmong-American Olympic medalist—for the Time 100

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