U.S. gymnasts’ pleas about abuse must be addressed

Last Wednesday, Sept. 15, as Yom Kippur approached, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols openly testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about how the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) brazenly minimized the sexual abuse inflicted on them by Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics team doctor.

Nassar, 58, was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges in 2017. He has also been sentenced to 175 years in Michigan state prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct.

The Olympian women provided harrowing testimony about a perverted culture of indifference that minimized their accounts of torment they endured.

Raisman, who is proudly Jewish and won numerous medals for performing her floor exercise routine to “Hava Nagila,” noted that USA Gymnastics (USAG) and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committees (USOPC) failed to protect female athletes entrusted to their care. The sorry saga was many years in the making.

“In 2015, it was known that at least six National Team athletes had been abused by Nassar. There was even a video of one athlete’s abuse. Given our abuser’s unfettered access to children, stopping him should have been a priority. Instead, the following occurred: The FBI failed to interview pertinent parties in a timely manner. It took over 14 months for the FBI to contact me despite my multiple requests to be interviewed,” Raisman told the senators.

Raisman also testified that Steve Penny, who served as president of USA Gymnastics from 2005 through March 16, 2017, met with an FBI agent over beers “to discuss job opportunities in the Olympic movement.” Penny has been charged with a third-degree felony offense of tampering with evidence in a Texas state district court in Walker County. Specifically, he has been charged with hiding or destroying documents relating to Nassar’s activities at the Karoyli Ranch near Huntsville. Texas law provides that the range of punishment upon conviction for a third-degree felony may include two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

“My reports of abuse were not only buried by USAG, USOPC, but they were also mishandled by federal law enforcement officers who failed to follow their most basic duties,” Raisman explained.

“The FBI and others within both USAG and USOPC knew that Nassar molested children and did nothing to restrict his access. Steve Penny and any USAG employee could have walked a few steps to file a report with the Indiana Child Protective Services (CPS) since they shared the same building. Instead, they quietly allowed Nassar to slip out the side door, and knowingly allowed him to continue his ‘work’ at MSU (Michigan State University), Sparrow Hospital, a USAG club and even to run for school board,” Raisman said in her testimony.

Notably, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray apologized for the failures of the FBI in its handling of the Nassar-related matters.

Raisman, like Biles, Maroney and Nichols, made it clear that they and scores of other women gymnasts continue to suffer from the despicable acts they endured.

To date, only Nassar, the perpetrator-in-chief, has been successfully prosecuted. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said this month that FBI agents who “made materially false statements and deceptive submissions” in the Nassar investigation should be prosecuted.

Judaism reveres justice. As written in the Torah in Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” The rabbis teach us that there are no superfluous words in Torah. Repetition of “justice” connotes an affirmative commandment.

So, there must be a full measure of justice for Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols and all the women who have been wronged by the FBI, the USAG and the USOPC.

Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz praised the athletes for testifying before the Judiciary Committee.

“This nation must be a place where when victims speak, they are not ignored, and it must be a place where those who commit crimes like Larry Nassar are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And the FBI must demonstrate, as they have not attempted to do before, that they understand their failures, will learn from them, and do better,” Cornyn told the committee.

Respect for others is a fundamental Jewish value. There is no excuse for ignoring the sordid actions of complicit FBI agents or Olympic officials who ignored the anguished cries of the young women and girls charged to their care. All of us are created in the image of Hashem. There must be a full accounting for years of systematic abuse. We are all human, and, for that reason, we are all vulnerable.

When blatant injustice is unaddressed, a gaping wound is cut into the body of society. The harm inflicted on Raisman, Biles, Maroney, Nichols and others must be fully addressed. Only through a real reckoning can we remedy these grievous wrongs and accord these heroic women the respect that is their birthright.

A version of this editorial appeared in the Sept. 23, 2021, issue of the Jewish Herald-Voice of Houston.

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