Over 300 athletes have spoken out against former U.S. Olympics doctor Larry Nassar, who sexually abused many of the gymnasts he worked closely with. The survivors range in age and location, as the abuse had been ongoing for almost two decades before Nassar was finally sentenced in 2018. Nassar went so long without consequences because of the many organizations that were protecting him and ignoring his victims.
Years of testimonies consistently show that officials in the gymnastics field tried to keep the abuse under wraps. Back in 1997, a gymnast named Larissa Boyce told a Michigan State University gymnastics coach about Nassar molesting her. The coach told Boyce that she was “mistaken,” and intimidated her into staying quiet.
In 2015, Olympian Aly Raisman reached out to Steve Penny, the former President and CEO of USA Gymnastics to discuss allegations against Nassar. He assured Raisman that he would take care of the problem, but what was most important was “addressing the issue with privacy and confidentiality in mind.” Penny was later arrested and convicted of tampering with evidence in the Nassar investigation.
Even the FBI did nothing to combat the sexual abuse, according to a congressional report. Despite opening an investigation on Nassar in 2015, the FBI allowed him to continue his practice and be alone with patients. There is a 400-day gap between when the FBI became aware of the allegations and when Nassar was arrested. There are no reports that indicate what they were doing for the case during that time.
The U.S. Olympic Committee released an open letter to Olympic athletes in December of 2018, stating that the abuse was the result of “institutional failures.” The current CEO of USA Gymnastics, Li Li Leung, says the organization’s top priority is to remain athlete-centric and to “keep athlete safety and well-being at the forefront of all that we do.”
Policymakers in Washington have proposed legislation that could improve oversight in sexual assault cases and prevent future abuse. Given this proposal and the several initiatives introduced by the U.S. Olympics Committee, there is hope that assailants like Larry Nassar will never be protected again.
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