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Larry Nassar will spend the rest of his life behind bars, but his effect on the lives of several young women rings out far beyond the sentencing he received back in 2018. The former doctor for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was sentenced in both state and federal courts after pleading guilty to child pornography, tampering with evidence, and several counts of sexual assault of minors. Over 250 women came forth with allegations of abuse at the hands of Nassar during his 18-year tenure as team doctor. Ultimately, he was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison, an additional 40 to 175 years in Michigan State prison due to charges in Ingham County, and another 40 to 125 years in state prison charges in Eaton County — a guarantee that he will die in prison. After listening to 150 survivors bravely recount horrific instances of abuse over the course of seven days, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina stated to Nassar as she imposed his sentence, “I just signed your death warrant.”
However, justice has hardly been served. Like other alleged predators like R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein, it took a village. We aren’t talking about a village in the sense of community nurturing and development of the youth. This village is sinister. There have been systems in place full of condonement and cover-ups that allowed decades of abuse and created numerous survivors forced to bravely forge through life after trials and turmoil. Let’s face it. Nassar could not inflict his years of assault on so many girls and women for so many years without any help. Such was the subject of a Senate hearing where Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, and several other current and former gymnasts sought to make the FBI accountable in their complacency concerning the entire matter.
When Biles pulled out of the team final as well as the individual all-around competition at this past summer’s Olympic games, she was met with harsh judgment and criticisms. Saying that the most decorated American gymnast was prioritizing her mental health is putting it mildly. Earlier in the month, Biles tearfully proclaimed that she was a survivor of sexual abuse. She went on to disclose that both USA Gymnastics as well as the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee knew of her abuse before she even knew that they were aware. “I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” she said. The biggest barrier to justice in this case was by far the FBI. The agency was notified as far back as 2015 about the allegations against the doctor. McKayla Maroney, part of the Fierce Five that brought home the gold in the 2012 Olympics in London, held no punches when criticizing the FBI’s severe mismanagement.
At the time, she mustered up the courage to speak with the FBI regarding abuse that she personally endured at the hands of Nassar. After divulging extreme details of molestation, her tears were met with the silence of the agent on the other end of the phone. The horrific experiences dated back even before her gold medal trip to the Olympics. Her report was not documented for more than a year. Even then, she found that her statements had been falsified.
“After reading the Office of Inspector General’s report, I was shocked and deeply disappointed at this narrative they chose to fabricate. 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.
Knowing that speaking aloud about her experiences would likely trigger PTSD, Maroney says the thought that she could help prevent the same thing from happening to other young girls and women is what ultimately drove her to sit down on her bedroom floor for the tough 3-hour phone conversation during the summer of 2015. She had to relive the recollection of meeting Nassar at the tender age of 13 and having his first dialogue with her be a command to change into shorts with no underwear. His fingers were in her vagina within minutes. After a few more pointed questions, Maroney was asked if the “treatment” ever helped her. An adult listened to an account of sexual assault on a minor and that was the response. But it gets worse.
The gymnast went on to give details about the time Nassar gave her a sleeping pill for the plane ride and to later molest her for hours on end in a Tokyo hotel room. “I told them I thought I was going to die that night because there was no way that he would let me go. But he did. I told them I walked the halls of Tokyo hotel at 2 a.m. at only 15 years old.” After remaining silent as Maroney sobbed, the agent asked, “Is that all?”
The indecent liberties that an adult decided to take with a minor — the ultimate abuse of power — had been minimized. In the coming months, the blatant disregard for Maroney as well as other victims would get louder and more troubling. When her statement was finally filed, the OIG report determined that it was materially false. In the meantime, Nassar maintained his access to young athletes and it is estimated that as many as 120 more women were allegedly abused. Maroney closed her statement demanding that the agents responsible for falsifying her report be brought to justice. At present time, the Department of Justice has failed to prosecute any of the agents that were closely involved in the case and Special Agent Michael Langeman, the agent who took the gymnast’s statement, wasn’t fired until recently — as in the past two weeks.
It was the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz who finally brought the botched investigation to light in a report released in July detailing all of the mistakes made by the FBI. Horowitz testified during the proceedings that Langeman’s actions and false information could have helped Nassar’s defense and allowed the predator to walk free. Maroney was the only one interviewed after USA Gymnastics President and CEO Stephen Penny reported the allegations to the FBI’s Indianapolis office in July 2015, then led by Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott. Not only did Abbott not formally open an investigation at the time, he later looked into a possible job with the US Olympic Committee while working on the Nassar case. Acknowledging the severe injustice that had already been inflicted, FBI director Chris Wray apologized on behalf of the agency. He even admitted that the case had been presented, and declined, twice for prosecution but tasked the federal prosecutors with explaining why.
Although a huge onus has deservedly been placed on the FBI, Raisman insists that there needs to be further investigation into the USA Gymnastics, and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee who both knew of Nassar’s abuse and failed to step in to stop it. That is part of a bigger problem at hand. That is the blind eye often turned to the abuse children suffer at the hands of adults. More often than not, allegations are met with disbelief, disregard, and the aged philosophy that the adult is always right. Any deviation from that idea is frowned upon, oftentimes sparking silence out of fear of being labeled the wayward child, or in this case, the uncoachable athlete. Everyone has heard of “stranger danger” and that philosophy actually can be counterproductive as it dispels the “devil you know.” Too often, the idea is engrained that it’s the strangers lurking in a dark alley that you should be afraid of — not the devil you may know and certainly not the longtime doctor entrusted with the health of the world’s best athletes.
While apologies are nice and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin called the entire ordeal a “stain on the bureau,” the FBI is an inanimate object. The girls and women who endured the horrors of Nassar’s abuse will never be able to scrub the indelible stain that his actions have caused. Although Biles came forward in 2018 about her status as a survivor, it didn’t stop people from ripping her to shreds for focusing on her mental health this past summer as she dealt with the lingering effects of being one. “The scars of this horrific abuse continue to live with all of us … I worked incredibly hard to make sure that my presence could help maintain a connection between the failures [around the Nassar case] and the competition at Tokyo 2020,” she testified. The effects indeed linger and several survivors of childhood abuse will one day become adults and forever carry scars, seen and unseen.