Thirteen former gymnasts have taken the next step toward justice regarding the alleged mishandling of their allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, filing complaints against the FBI and requesting damages totaling $130 million.
Last year, a scathing report by the Inspector General revealed the FBI had botched its investigation into Nassar’s abuse, largely by failing to act quickly on the allegations and that the agency’s failures had allowed the doctor to abuse 100 women and girls under the guise of medical treatment for an additional 16 months before authorities intervened. Nassar was convicted of multiple sex crimes in 2017 and is spending the rest of his life in prison.
Last September, gymnasts including Olympians Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, and Aly Raisman testified before Congress about the impact on them of the FBI’s and other institutions’ failings. “Nassar is where he belongs, but those who enabled him deserve to be held accountable,” Biles said in the hearing.
The 13 nearly identical claims filed Wednesday are from women who were assaulted by Nassar between July 2021 — when USA Gymnastics first alerted the FBI to gymnasts’ allegations of abuse by Nassar — and August 2016, when the Michigan State University Police Department intervened with its own investigation. The claims allege the abuse girls and young women suffered during that time period was a result of negligence and wrongdoing by the FBI.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, an attorney for several of the claimants, James White, said FBI policy demands reports of child abuse be dealt with immediately, and officers did not do that. In addition to their many months of inaction, White said officers failed to properly document interviews, failed to identify additional accusers of Nassar. White alleged that one officer, Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge, W. Jay Abbot — a main character of the IG’s report — not only failed to act and lied about his office’s failures, but tried to leverage communications with people with ties to the Olympic Committee into a job opportunity for himself.
When the FBI turned a blind eye to initial assault allegations, White claimed, the agency allowed a ”monster” to continue assaulting women and children for 16 more months, “wreaking his sick terror on them.” Many victims suffered repeated assaults, he added, and now have to live with the mental and emotional trauma caused by the experience. “If the FBI had done its job, his actions could’ve been stopped,” he said.
One of the only named claimants, former gymnast and advocate for abuse survivors Grace French, said at the press event that while no amount of justice served can make up for the abuse people suffered, she hopes these claims can be “a step towards healing for survivors.”
The actions have been filed under the Federal Tort Claim Act, which was recently used in getting justice for victims of the Parkland shooting, and relies on the allegation that people were harmed as a result of agents violating policy or law. White said he expects more claims to be filed in the future. These claims potentially precede federal lawsuits, which claimants will be eligible to file six months from now, assuming a settlement has not been reached by then.