Simone Biles and Her Team Testified About Surviving Abuse. It Was Excruciating and Exceptional

Biles—along with Maggie Nichols, Aly Raisman, and McKayla Maroney—delivered testimony that's hard to watch but undeniably brave.


“Is that all?” McKayla Maroney remembers an FBI agent asking her.
She had just told the federal agents the story of being molested by Larry Nassar, then a doctor with USA gymnastics. She had related, to the highest law enforcement officials in the country, how she thought she “was going to die that night, because there was no way he was going to let me go.”
On Wednesday, she testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the FBI agents dismissed her. She said that her report wasn’t documented for 17 months. When it was, she said, parts of her statement was fabricated. “USA Gymnastics, in concert with the FBI and the Olympic Committee were working together to conceal that Larry Nassar was a predator,” she told Congress.
On Wednesday, Maroney was joined in her Senate testimony by other USA woman gymnasts—Maggie Nichols, Aly Raisman, and Simone Biles. To the world, these gymnasts are extraordinary athletes and recognizable pop culture figures. But for years, they have also been trying to expose a coverup of Nassar’s abuse that went all the way up to the FBI. Together, they represent a tiny fraction of the hundreds of women athletes who were abused by Nassar throughout his career as doctor for U.S.A. Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, and other organizations. 
Nassar is now serving a life sentence in prison for sexual abuse of an estimated 265 people, including minors. Part of the reason he was, presumably, able to abuse so many girls and women is that organizations failed to stop him. On Wednesday, the four athletes asked the congressional committee to hold the F.B.I., U.S. Gymnastics, and the U.S. Olympic Committee accountable.  
Two months ago, according to the New York Times, the U.S. Justice Department put out a report that found the failures of the FBI’s investigation “allowed Nassar to continue treating patients for eight months” at Michigan State University and “at a local gymnastics center and a high school.”  After the athletes testified on Wednesday, Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI since 2017, apologized directly to them. 
But the athletes say that this isn't enough. “To date, no one from the FBI, the U.S.O.P.C. or U.S.A.G. has faced federal charges, other than Larry Nassar,” Nichols said in her testimony. “For many hundreds of survivors of Larry Nassar, this hearing is one of our last opportunities to get justice. We ask that you do what is in your power to ensure those that engaged in wrongdoing are held accountable under the law.” 
Year in and year out, we watch these women perform feats of strength at their sport. Now we’ve also watched them exhibit another kind of courage: documenting their own abuse in the hopes of holding national organizations accountable. If some of the most watched women in the country can come forward about abuse and be ignored for years, what does that mean for everyone else?
The testimony by Nichols, Raisman, Biles, and Maroney is unbelievably painful. But it's impossible not to admire their rhetorical strength, moral clarity, and righteous anger in the face of evil. They shouldn’t have had to demonstrate this, but they did. Here is what they told the Senate about surviving sexual violation and fighting to keep other girls and women safe: 

Simone Biles


“I can imagine no place that I would be less comfortable right now than sitting in front of you sharing these comments,” Biles told the Senate on Wednesday. And yet the greatest gymnast of all time persevered through her speech, crying on and off, demanding congressional attention for what she called “The crisis of abuse in amateur sports.”
“I believe without a doubt that the circumstances that led to my abuse and allowed it to continue are directly the result of the fact that the organizations created by congress to oversee and protect me as an athlete—USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee—failed to do their jobs,” she said. “Nassar is where he belongs, but those who enabled him deserve to be held accountable. If they are not, I am convinced that this will continue to happen to others across Olympic sports.”
She spoke with emotion about her choice to be “the lone competitor in the recent Tokyo games who was a survivor of this horror” with the goal of “not allowing this crisis to be ignored.” She added, “I worked incredibly hard to make sure that my presence could maintain a connection between the failures and the competition of 2020. That has proven to be an exceptionally difficult burden for me to carry.” Biles has now spent years demanding safety and justice for young athletes, while being expected to maintain athletic perfection. “The scars of this horrific abuse continue to live with all of us,” she said.

McKayla Maroney


The world knows Maroney from her role in the 2012 summer olympics, when she helped bring home the gold for Team U.S.A. gymnastics. She became a beloved pop culture figure and a meme when, after an extraordinary vault performance that landed her a silver medal, she made a face on the podium, as if her athletic excellence was kind of a letdown.
What we didn’t know is that from the age of 13, as she rose in U.S. gymnastics, she was subject to horrific abuse by Nassar. She told Congress that in 2015, she fought PTSD symptoms to spend three hours on the phone with the FBI, detailing the story of Nassar’s abuse. “I hadn’t even told my own mother about these facts” she said. “But I thought as uncomfortable and hard as it was to tell my story, I was going to make a difference.”
As she related to Congress, she told F.B.I. agents about Nassar “molesting me for hours” as a 15 year old. “Is that all?” the agent responded, as she cried into the phone. “He molested me right before I won my team gold medal,” she added, of her time at the 2012 London Olympics. Agents didn’t report the abuse for 17 months, and when they did, she said, they fabricated parts of her story. “They chose to lie about what I said and protect a serial child molester rather than protect not only me, but countless others,” she said.
“Let’s be honest,” she added. “By not taking immediate action from my report, they allowed a child molester to go free for more than a year. And this inaction directly allowed Nassar’s abuse to continue.”

Maggie Nichols


Nichols was called “Athlete A” in U.S.A. Gyamnastics’ documentation of Nassar’s abuse. Testifying before the Senate committee, she said, “I want everyone to know that this did not happen to Gymnast 2 or to Athlete A. It happened to me, Maggie Nichols.”
In 2015, Nichols and her coach told U.S.A. Gymnastics officials that she was abused by Nassar.  “In sacrificing my childhood for the chance to compete for the United States, I am haunted by the fact that even after I reported my abuse, so many women and girls had to needlessly suffer at the hands of Larry Nassar,” she said. It’s an impossibly painful statement, and in her speech, Nichols asked for only one thing in return: “We ask that you do what is in your power to ensure those that engaged in wrongdoing are held accountable under the law.”
“While my complaints languished with the FBI, Larry Nassar continued to abuse women and girls,” she told the committee. “During this time, the FBI issued no search warrants, and made no arrests.” While maintaining a focus in her testimony on Nassar's evil and the organizations' misconduct, Nichols also took a moment to describe what must have been a devastating loss for a young athlete. “From the day I reported my molestation by Nassar, I was treated differently by USAG,” she said. 

Aly Raisman


Aly Raisman is a longtime leader. She led two teams of American gymnasts to all-around gold medals, at both the 2012 and 2015 Olympics. And now, she's spent years rallying her fellow gymnasts and the general public in the fight for justice and support in the wake of Nassar’s abuse. “Over the past few years, it has become painfully clear how a survivors healing is affected by the handling of their abuse,” she told the congressional committee. “And it disgusts me that we are still fighting for the most basic answers and accountability over six years later.”
In her speech, she went point by point through much of the mishandling of the Nassar case. “The FBI and others within both USAG and USOPC knew that Nassar molested children and did nothing to restrict his access,” she concluded. She added, devastatingly, “[Then-president] Steve Penny and any USAG employee could have walked a few steps to file a report with Indiana Child Protective Services, since they shared the same building.” By allowing Nassar to continue working after so many victims had come forward, Raisman said, the three organizations did the equivalent of “serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter.”
Raisman called, again, for a “fully independent factual investigation.” She added. “We just can’t fix a problem we don’t understand—and we can’t understand the problem unless and until we have all the facts.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter. 
This story originally appeared on: Glamour - Author:Condé Nast
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