The FBI and Larry Nassar: An Entire System of Abuse

Larry Nassar, a name that evokes visceral disgust – for me, just typing it out and probably for you, just reading it. “The impact of this man’s abuse will never be over,” Olympic gymnast Simone Biles testified at the Senate hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 15.  

Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor, is currently serving an effective life sentence in prison for sexually abusing more than 150 women and girls. He worked for USA Gymnastics from 1978 through 2016, and throughout his career, his abuse was enabled as well as continuously covered up by others in positions of power. Numerous reports of his abuse were made both formally and informally during his time at Michigan State University and were swept under the rug; it was not until the summer of 2015, when elite gymnasts Maggie Nichols, Aly Raisman, and McKayla Maroney confirmed Nassar’s abuse, that USA Gymnastics notified the FBI, prompting an investigation.  

This 2015 FBI investigation was the subject of Wednesday’s hearing in front of the U.S. Senate. In July 2021, the Justice Department released a report that detailed the ways in which the FBI officials in charge fundamentally botched one of the largest child sex abuse cases in American history. These FBI officials not only discredited and undermined the brave women who came forward but also put additional women in harm’s way by not taking immediate action after the initial allegations. From neglecting to inform the proper state and local authorities about the allegations to fabricating as well as failing to document interview statements, “mishandling” doesn’t even begin to describe the mess that was this case and the mess that is the FBI.

From neglecting to inform the proper state and local authorities about the allegations to fabricating as well as failing to document interview statements, “mishandling” doesn’t even begin to describe the mess that was this case and the mess that is the FBI.”

Following the heartbreaking testimonies from Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Maggie Nichols on Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray apologized for the agency’s profound failures, but he also said, “I don’t have a good explanation for you…on no planet is what happened in this case acceptable.” Not having an explanation is also unacceptable. 

There must be a full-scale investigation into the FBI in order to get to the bottom of everything that went wrong, because clearly, it wasn’t just a couple FBI officials at fault. Everyone at USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee, Michigan State University, and the FBI who was complicit and covered up critical information about Larry Nassar is responsible for enabling his abuse. It is impossible to know how many actors were involved without an investigation.  The Justice Department has yet to even hold the FBI officials from the report criminally responsible for their actions. Falsifying evidence is against the law, so why haven’t charges been brought against them? 

Ultimately, the gymnasts could not have been more clear in their testimonies, asserting that there is a system of abuse to blame for the trauma and pain that they, along with many others, now live with every single day. The fact that these women even had to publicly relive the trauma of their experiences, once again, in order to fight for some semblance of justice is another failure of the system. It “might take me months to recover,” Aly Raisman said about delivering her testimony on Wednesday. Officials already have more than enough information and testimony to underscore the pressing need for a wide-reaching independent investigation. Stop asking survivors to continuously recount their stories and add to their pain, and instead take action against the system and all those involved to make sure this never happens to anyone again.