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Gymnasts’ billion-dollar lawsuit against FBI over abuse reports ‘utterly valid,’ U. law professor says

Other assaults could have been prevented if FBI had stopped former physician Larry Nassar, lawsuit says

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United States gymnasts from left, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols.

U.S. gymnasts from left, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, arrive to testify during a Senate Judiciary hearing about the Inspector General’s report on the FBI’s handling of the Larry Nassar investigation on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Washington. It was one thing for dozens of elite gymnasts to survive hundreds of instances of sexual abuse at the hands of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. But for the FBI to ignore its obligations after multiple gymnasts reported Nassar had sexually abused and assaulted exacted another level of emotional harm, said Amos Guiora, University of Utah professor of law and author of “Armies of Enablers” which, in part, focuses on his personal interviews with gymnasts who were teens or young women when they were violated by the team physician.

Saul Loeb, Associated Press

It was one thing for dozens of elite gymnasts to survive hundreds of instances of sexual abuse at the hands of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.

But for the FBI to ignore its obligations after multiple gymnasts reported Nassar had sexually abused and assaulted them inflicted emotional harm, said Amos Guiora, University of Utah professor of law and author of “Armies of Enablers” which, in part, focuses on his interviews with gymnasts who were teens or young women when they were violated by the team physician.

“As bad as what Nassar did to their bodies ... for many of them, the more consequential harm is their recognition that those who could have protected failed to protect, thus the power of the enabler,” Guiora said.

On Wednesday, attorneys for dozens of women and girls who were sexually abused by Nassar submitted claims of more than $1 billion to the FBI, saying the bureau’s mishandling of the case could have prevented other assaults if the now-disgraced physician had been stopped.

The lawsuit was filed after the Department of Justice has thrice declined to bring charges against former FBI agents accused of mishandling the sex abuse inquiry of Nassar.

The claimants include Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, and world championship medalist Maggie Nichols, who are seeking $50 million each. Gymnasts Kaylee Lorincz and Hannah Morrow are each asking for $42.5 million, according to their attorneys. Most of the women are asking for $10 million each.

Statements issued by attorneys say the FBI failed to properly follow up on credible claims against Nassar in 2015, after which victims continued to face sexual abuse at his hands.

“My fellow survivors and I were betrayed by every institution that was supposed to protect us — the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, the FBI and now the Department of Justice,” Maroney said in a statement. “It is clear that the only path to justice and healing is through the legal process.”

Guiora said some gymnasts he interviewed while researching his book “Armies of Enablers” revealed that they were sexually abused hundreds of times by Nassar.

World Championships silver medalist Mattie Larson told Guiora that when traveling to international gymnastics competitions, two or four gymnasts, some as young as 13 or 14, shared hotel rooms. At night, they were sent unaccompanied to Nassar’s hotel room for treatment by a USA Gymnastics official.

“Mattie says to me, ‘Who the (expletive) sends the 14-year-old girl alone at night to a man’s hotel room?’ She’s right and those are enablers,” Guiora said.

In his book, Guiora wrote that the survivors of sexual abuse he has interviewed clearly recognize that two distinct actors have caused them harm.

“The survivors confronted two distinct categories of evil: predator and enabler. While criminal law is fully equipped to prosecute predators, the gaps and loopholes available to the enabler must be addressed. Otherwise, not only will enablers continue with their lives while the survivors suffer, but future enablers will follow in their footsteps,” Guiora wrote.

Asked for his reaction to the decision to lodge claims against the FBI, Guiora said, “More power to them.”

The participation of high-profile athletes like Biles “will draw much-needed attention” to the claims and the consequential harm caused by institutions and individuals the athletes relied upon to protect them but that failed them, he said.

“A price has to be exacted. Whether it’s resolved in some kind of a settlement or actually goes to trial, time will tell, but I think lawsuits like this are truly important and utterly valid,” Guiora said.

In this case, he said, the FBI’s failure to act on what they were told “absolutely exacerbated the harm that was caused.”