The FBI’s handling of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse is terrible – but unfortunately not surprising Moira Donegan


Olympic Games | The Guardian

W.When she was in Tokyo for a competition, former Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney told the Federal Bureau of Investigation she was afraid she might not survive the abuse of Larry Nassar, the former sports medic and prolific child molester. “I thought I was going to die that night because there was no way he was going to let me go,” Maroney repeated at a Senate hearing on Wednesday. Maroney was a teenager when she gave her interview to the FBI. She hadn’t told her own mother about the extent of Nassar’s sexual abuse. But the agent she spoke to on the phone from the Indianapolis FBI office didn’t seem particularly touched. “Is that all?” She remembers that he asked.

Ultimately, the FBI would have little investigation into Maroney’s allegations, according to a damning report from the Department of Justice’s Inspector General earlier this summer. Allegations against Nassar were initially largely rejected, a meaningful investigation was delayed for months. Of the three gymnasts who first reported to the FBI in 2015, Maroney was the only one interviewed. Your conversation with the FBI agent was not properly documented for 17 months; if so, the agent who wrote the report misrepresented what she had told him. The FBI has not forwarded the allegations to state and local authorities as is required in such cases. And one of the agents on the case, W Jay Abbott, appears to have been hoping to get a job at USA Gymnastics or the US Olympic Committee. When internal investigators later asked Abbott about his job questions, he lied, according to the report.

The FBI didn’t pursue Nassar until the fall of 2016, when local police found hard drives in his possession containing more than 37,000 images of child abuse. Between the women’s first complaint to the FBI and the time the FBI took action, Nassar sexually abused about 70 women and girls.

McKayla Maroney, an American Olympic gymnast, testified during a Senate hearing on Wednesday.McKayla Maroney, an American Olympic gymnast, testified during a Senate hearing on Wednesday. Photo: Rex / Shutterstock

The FBI’s handling of the Nassar case reflects an astonishing failure of the agents’ empathy, as well as a callous duty, amid the ongoing threat to public security that Nassar posed. Turner and Nassar victims Simone Biles, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman, as well as Maroney, told the Senate on Wednesday that the agency’s failures were both procedural and moral. By downplaying their experience, delaying the investigation, and failing to gather evidence of Nassar’s crimes, the FBI did a second, additional harm to Nassar’s victims: not only were they abused, but also by those who were supposed to be there to help , insults and disregards you.

As Maroney put it in her statement, “What’s the point of reporting abuse when our own FBI agents take it upon themselves to bury this report in a drawer?”

While the FBI’s mistakes are egregious, they are not unique. Unfortunately, the handling of the Nassar case symbolizes wider, systemic failure by law enforcement agencies to adequately investigate sexual violence and to treat that violence with the seriousness and rigorous investigation it deserves. Women across the country who have reported sexual violence say police and prosecutors react with contempt and disregard, and that sex crimes are less thoroughly investigated than other types of violence.

It is well documented that reports of sexual violence result in fewer arrests and criminal convictions than other types of crime. Less understood, however, is the police’s failure to investigate sexual violence in the first place, a failure that victims say appears to be motivated by indifference to the specific form of harm suffered. Evidence is neglected or destroyed, witnesses are not interviewed, incidents of sexual violence are mistakenly classified as minor crimes, and cases are summarily closed, often without meaningful investigation into what happened.

Rape kits, the collections of DNA from victims of sexual violence gathered through lengthy, invasive, and sometimes retraumatizing medical exams, often go untested, leading to a nationwide backlog of hundreds of thousands of untested evidence kits. Sometimes law enforcement agencies and testing facilities destroy these kits before the statute of limitations has even expired – not only ignoring the evidence the kits contain, but actively denying victims the opportunity to bring a solid case to court.

In other incidents, evidence is gathered but ignored. This happened to Emily Borchardt, a University of Texas student who was kidnapped in a rideshare; a passenger choked her into unconsciousness, then he and the driver took her to a motel and assaulted her. After she escaped, a man she identified as one of her attackers told police he had never met her. His DNA was later found in her rape kit, which proved he had lied. But the police never arrested him.

US Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols come from left to testify during a Senate hearing.US Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols come from left to testify during a Senate hearing. Photo: Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

At other times, even when there is little reason to believe that a woman is lying or that her suspected attacker is telling the truth, the police put accused perpetrators ‘accounts over victims’ reports. This happened to another University of Texas student whose cries for help were recorded while she was raped. But when their attacker, a stranger, told the police that the sex was consensual, they dropped the case.

The police’s gullibility towards alleged perpetrators appears to be part of what helped Nassar evade justice and continue his attacks on women and girls. After all, it wasn’t just the FBI that wasn’t investigating Nassar properly; He was also reported to local police at least twice, once in 2004 and once in 2014. In these incidents, Nassar alleged that his attacks on his victims were medically legitimate “pelvic floor therapy” and created PowerPoint presentations to use Had created support for this claim. Doctors could easily have dissuaded the police from making this fraudulent explanation, but the local police officers did not ask them.

The systematic failure of law enforcement agencies to investigate sexual abuse betrays the unspoken belief that underlies many of our cultural and institutional responses to these incidents: the notion that sexual violence is trivial and that the harm it does to its victims does not us is aware. The feminist struggle must not only be about convincing institutions that sexual violence is happening, but also that it matters.

At the Senate hearing, FBI Director Chris Wray praised the prosecutors’ courage but made no pledge to assume the required accountability. He insisted that the behavior of the FBI in this case is indicative not of the character of the institution, but of the mistakes of the people. The evidence suggests otherwise. The FBI’s handling of the Nassar case seems less like a mere mistake – more like an indication of the agency’s priorities.

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