FBI allows sexual predator Nassar to go unchecked. His survivors must process another painful betrayal.
We say "listen to women." We say "believe women." We say "me too." These words are more than pithy social media hashtags; they are cries for help.
Imagine the pain and courage it would take to reach out to the country's top law enforcement agency with claims that a team doctor was molesting you and hundreds of other girls. And then imagine being virtually ignored.
That's what happened in 2015, when sexual abuse allegations were made against longtime USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. For more than a year, complaints to the FBI went unanswered and Nassar continued treating – and raping – gymnasts at Michigan State University, a high school in Michigan, and a gymnastics club in Michigan.
More than one year. Three hundred sixty-five days. Of rape.
And the FBI – the most vaunted law enforcement agency in the land – did nothing, according to a scathing new report from the Justice Department's inspector general.
“We do not lose sight of the victims that suffered abuse and mistreatment because of potential missed opportunities to disrupt the further criminal behavior of the now-convicted Nassar in 2015 and 2016,” the FBI said.
I'm so glad they're not losing sight of that. Personally, I can't lose sight of those girls who could have been saved – if only someone had listened.
How many could have been saved?
Instead of listening and then acting, according the report, the FBI violated agency procedures, made false statements and exhibited "extremely poor judgment" – all while allowing a sexual predator to go unchecked and continue his reign or terror.
A key finding: One survivor was interviewed in September 2015, but the report of the interview was not submitted until February 2017 – months after Nassar was arrested on state and federal charges. Those actions may not signify a calculated cover-up – though that may be the case – but it certainly screams of an attempt by those investigators to cover their you-know-whats.
It's another devastating reminder that this country's investigative, enforcement and justice systems are deeply flawed and require overhaul.
Nassar FBI investigation:An 8-point breakdown of the 119-page watchdog report
"Senior officials in the FBI Indianapolis Field Office failed to respond to allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by former USA Gymnastics physician Lawrence Gerard Nassar with the urgency that the allegations required," the inspector general's office said in a statement.
"We also found that the FBI Indianapolis Field Office made fundamental errors when it did respond to the allegations, failed to notify the appropriate FBI field office (the Lansing Resident Agency) or state or local authorities of the allegations, and failed to take other steps to mitigate the ongoing threat posed by Nassar."
The case is being widely characterized as "bungled." News stories state that the FBI "failed to pursue" the allegations.
Hashtags created for a reason
But this wasn't a case of mishandling an investigation. This wasn't an evidence snafu. FBI agents just didn't do their jobs. We can hypothesize the reasons, of course. I'll start with the fact that the FBI is a male-dominated agency and women are rarely believed. Those hashtags were created for a reason.
More than 500 women and girls have come forward to say they were sexually assaulted by Nassar, who worked at a sports medicine clinic at Michigan State University while serving as the USA Gymnastics team doctor. Nassar likely will die in prison, but he's not the only one culpable here.
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These girls were failed by many adults along the way, including those within the USA Gymnastics organization. They must live with the trauma of rape and the knowledge that they were betrayed by people charged with protecting them. And as if not victimized enough, they now have to process the revelation that their claims were never taken seriously.
It is appalling and inexcusable. These athletes, these girls deserved better.
I'll never lose sight of that. I hope the FBI doesn't either.