Monday, August 8

The FBI’s Handling of Larry Nassar’s Sexual Abuse Is Terrible, But Sadly Not Surprising | Moira Donegan

When she was in Tokyo for a competition, former Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney told the Federal Bureau of Investigation that she feared she would not survive the abuse of Larry Nassar, the former sports medicine doctor and prolific child molester. “I thought I was going to die that night because there was no way he was letting me go,” Maroney repeated to a Senate hearing On Wednesday. At the time she gave her FBI interview, Maroney was just a teenager. He had not yet told his own mother about the extent of Nassar’s sexual abuse. But the agent he spoke to on the phone, from the local FBI office in Indianapolis, didn’t seem particularly shaken. “That is all?” she remembers him asking.

Ultimately, the FBI would hardly investigate Maroney’s allegations, according to a scathing report issued by the Justice Department inspector general this summer. The allegations against Nassar were largely dismissed at first and a meaningful investigation was delayed for months. Of the three gymnasts who initially showed up to the FBI in 2015, Maroney was the only one who was interviewed. His conversation with the FBI agent was not properly documented for 17 months; when it did, the agent who wrote the report misrepresented what she had told him. The FBI did not refer the allegations to state and local authorities, as it should in such cases. And one of the officers assigned to the case, W Jay Abbott, appears to have been hoping to get a job with USA Gymnastics or the US Olympic Committee When internal investigators later asked Abbott about his employment inquiries, he lied about them, according to the report.

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The FBI did not finally 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 time the women initially complained to the FBI and the time the FBI took action, Nassar sexually abused approximately 70 women and girls.

McKayla Maroney, a United States Olympic gymnast, testifies before the Senate during a hearing on Wednesday.
McKayla Maroney, a United States Olympic gymnast, testifies before the Senate during a hearing on Wednesday. Photograph: Rex / Shutterstock

The FBI’s handling of the Nassar case reflects a staggering lack of empathy on the part of officers, as well as a cruel neglect of duty amid the continuing threat to public safety posed by Nassar. Gymnasts and Nassar’s victims, Simone Biles, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman, along with Maroney, told the Senate Wednesday that the agency’s dropouts were both procedural and moral. By downplaying their experiences, delaying the investigation, and failing to collect evidence of Nassar’s crimes, the FBI did a second additional harm against Nassar’s victims: They were not only abused, but were insulted and neglected by those allegedly there to help. them.

Like maroney said your testimony, “What’s the point of reporting abuse if our own FBI agents are going to bury that report in a drawer?”

Although the FBI’s failures are egregious, they are not unique. Unfortunately, the handling of the Nassar case is emblematic of broader systemic failures on the part of law enforcement agencies to adequately investigate sexual violence and treat that violence with the seriousness and rigorous investigation it deserves. Women across the country Those who have reported sexual violence say that police and prosecutors respond with disdain and contempt, and that sexual crimes are less thoroughly investigated than other types of violence.

Is well documented that reports of sexual violence lead to fewer arrests and criminal convictions than other types of crimes. But less understood are the failures of the police to even investigate sexual violence, a failure that victims say appears motivated by indifference to the specific form of harm they suffered. Evidence is neglected or destroyed, witnesses are not interviewed, incidents of sexual violence are misclassified as misdemeanors, and cases are summarily closed, often without any meaningful consultation in what happened.

Rape kits, the DNA collections collected from victims of sexual violence in lengthy, invasive and sometimes traumatizing medical examinations, are often not tested, resulting in a national backlog of hundreds of thousands of unexamined test kits. Sometimes police departments and testing facilities destroy those kits before statutes of limitations have run out, not only ignoring the evidence contained in the kits, but also actively denying victims the opportunity to present a strong case in court.

In other incidents, evidence is collected but ignored. That’s what happened to Emily borchardt, a University of Texas student who was kidnapped on a carpool; a fellow traveler drowned her unconscious, 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 that he had never met her. Later, her DNA was found in her rape kit, proving that she had lied. But the police never arrested him.

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

At other times, the police pass on the accounts of the accused to those of the victims, even when there is little reason to believe that a woman is lying or that her alleged attacker is telling the truth. That’s what happened to another student at the University of Texas, whose scream for help were searched during his rape. But when her attacker, a stranger, told police the sex had been consensual, they dropped the case.

The credulity of the police towards the 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 failed to properly investigate Nassar; he was also reported to the local police at least twice, once in 2004 and once in 2014. In those incidents, Nassar claimed that his assaults on his victims were medically legitimate “pelvic floor therapy,” and produced PowerPoint presentations that he had made to support this claim. The doctors could have easily deceived the police of this fraudulent explanation, but the local police did not ask them.

The systemic failures of law enforcement agencies to investigate sexual abuse betray the tacit belief that underlies many of our cultural and institutional responses to these incidents: the idea that sexual violence is trivial, that the harm it causes to its victims is below our knowledge. The feminist struggle must be not only to convince institutions that sexual violence occurs, but also that it is important.

At the Senate hearing, FBI Director Chris Wray praised the courage of the prosecutors, but did not promise to take the responsibility they demanded. He insisted that the FBI’s conduct in the case was not indicative of the character of the institution, but rather of the mistakes of the individuals. The evidence suggests otherwise. The FBI’s handling of the Nassar case seems less like a mere mistake, and more an indication of the agency’s priorities.

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