The victims of Larry Nassar are begging the public — and the federal government — not to look away from what happened to them. On Wednesday, dozens of former gymnasts who say Nassar abused them as young girls brought claims against the FBI, saying the agency was negligent in handling allegations against the former sports physician. Together, they demanded damages totaling over $1 billion. The claimants include Olympic and Team USA gymnasts Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Maggie Nichols.
Sarah Klein, a lawyer representing the women and a Nassar accuser herself, tells Rolling Stone the claims aren’t about a financial settlement but about pressuring the Department of Justice to act. “Today is about saying that we are not going away until the bad actors are held to account,” she says, “as well as the entities who enabled Nassar and allowed 90 more women to be abused after the Federal Bureau of Investigation already knew that Nassar was an abuser.”
The FBI declined to comment on the new claims, referring only to Director Christopher Wray’s remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee last September, where he apologized to victims, described the FBI’s inaction as “unacceptable,” and vowed to ensure it would never happen again. “I’m especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed,” he said at the time. “That’s inexcusable.”
That the FBI handled the investigation disgracefully is a matter of publicly accepted fact. Last summer, the Justice Department’s Inspector General released a scathing report detailing the agency’s botching of the investigation. The report estimated that 70 additional girls were abused between July 2015, when allegations were first reported to the agency, and August 2016, when the Michigan State University Police Department brought Nassar down. Wednesday’s 90 claimants say they were abused during that same time, topping the I.G.’s estimate. Yet aside from Nassar, who is spending the rest of his life in prison as a convicted child abuser, no one has faced criminal culpability for the decades he spent hiding behind his reputation as a prominent sports doctor while he abused hundreds of young athletes.
The FBI isn’t the only organization accused of letting Nassar get away with his crimes. In 2016, hundreds of victims sued USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, claiming the organizations had failed to handle allegations of Nassar’s abuse properly. After years of negotiations, the parties reached a $320 million settlement last December that will be distributed to more than 500 of Nassar’s victims. The heads of USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee both resigned during the course of the legal battle.
To victims, however, legal recourse against responsible parties remains elusive. Blistering IG report notwithstanding, just weeks ago, the DOJ said it would not prosecute two FBI agents accused of wrongdoing in the Nassar investigation. One of the agents, Michael Langman, was fired last fall for failing to respond to allegations against Nassar and lying about it later. The other, W. Jay Abbott, whom the DOJ’s Inspector General said tried to finagle a job through his contacts with the Olympics committee, retired in 2018.
“You’ve got Larry Nassar sitting in prison, and nobody else has been held to account,” Klein says. “The big question that we all still have — and that we had at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing [last fall] — is where is the United States Attorney General, Merrick Garland? Why are they hiding and refusing to answer questions from the Senate, from the public, and from these survivors who never should have been abused post-2015? Why are they not prosecuting these criminals at the FBI?”
Rolling Stone has reached out to the Justice Department for comment. In a statement on last month’s decision not to pursue charges against the FBI agents, the DOJ said the call came “after multiple reviews and analyses of evidence gathered in the investigation of the former agents, and reflects the recommendation of experienced prosecutors.”
Wednesday’s claim comes after 13 other Nassar survivors filed similar claims in April. These actions, filed under the Tort Claim Act, are a necessary step toward suing a federal government agency. The FBI has six months to respond, after which lawsuits may be filed. “We made a big statement by filing these claims: that no indictment for children being hand-delivered by law enforcement to a predator is unacceptable,” Klein says. “We will await any sign that the agency is going to take accountability.”
To Klein — a former gymnast who says Nassar abused her for a decade of her childhood before becoming a lawyer who works to help her “sister survivors” — that accountability must include criminal charges. “[Accountability] looks like indictments,” she says. “It looks like Merrick Garland getting involved, like potentially more hearings so we can understand exactly who knew what, when, and how this occurred. Give these women the truth, and hold the adults accountable so that they can move on with their lives. They cannot begin the healing process until the people who threw them to the wolves are held accountable.”