On Wednesday, the Department of Justice's (DOJ) inspector general released a scathing 119-page report detailing the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) mishandling of the sex abuse case against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
In 2017, Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on three counts of child pornography charges, and in 2018, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty for sexual assault. Since then, nearly 500 women and girls have come forward to say they were victimized by Nassar. But now, the DOJ says that if the FBI had done its job, many of those athletes may have been protected from Nassar.
USA Gymnastics first notified the FBI about the abuse allegations in July 2015, but the agency did not take any meaningful action until over a year later, in September 2016. In that timeframe, as many as 70 athletes have said they were abused by Nassar. "The FBI's failure in this case led to more athletes being victimized," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman. The report specifically highlights an apparent attempted cover-up and the repeated violations of FBI policies by at least two FBI agents.
"Did you guys really not like us that much that you couldn't just do your job?," USA Gymnast and Olympian Simone Biles said after learning about the FBI's role in the continued abuse. "We had one goal and we've done everything that they asked us for even when we didn’t want to and they couldn't do one damn job. You had one job. You literally had one job and you couldn't protect us."
According to Forbes, the FBI said in response to the DOJ's findings that these actions are "inexcusable and a discredit to this organization and the values we hold dear," also claiming that the bureau will introduce new processes for future investigations.
However, lawmakers are now calling for "a public hearing with Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray to press them on what the Justice Department and FBI are doing to ensure victims of sex abuse aren't ignored again," as reported by CNN.
But this is far from the first time the FBI has outright ignored reports of sexual assault or harassment. In 2014, an analysis of federal data estimated that between 1995 and 2012, over 1 million rape cases never even made it to the FBI as a result of police departments across the country systematically undercounting or underreporting sexual assault allegations. Under the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) program, police departments do not have to count and submit reported rapes to the FBI if they "determine that complains of rape are unfounded or false."
And even when cases do hit an FBI agents' desk, they are often ignored in the same manner that the FBI ignored complaints against Nassar. For example, former Kansas City Police Department detective Roger Golubski has been accused of threatening, stalking, and raping mostly poor Black women, many of whom were later murdered. Yet former FBI agent Alan Jennerich says he "tried and failed to interest his superiors" in bringing Golubski and other Kansas City police officers to justice, telling The Kansas City Star, "The FBI's never going to do anything. It's not in their interest."
"I gave them everything they needed to put this man in jail, and ain't nothing going to happen," Niko Quinn, one of Golubski's alleged victims, told The Kansas City Star. "I gave up on everything. I gave up on justice. I'm done."
When Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, Julie Swetnick, and a fourth anonymous woman came forward with sexual assault and sexual misconduct allegations against then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the FBI was said to have opened an "investigation." But reports surfaced that the FBI probe all-out ignored testimony from Kavanaugh's former classmates and that the FBI failed to look into many of the allegations.
"I am very alarmed: first, that I was denied an FBI investigation for five days, and then, when one was granted, that it was given on a short timeline and that the people who were key to corroborating my story have not been contacted," Ramirez told The New Yorker in 2018. "I feel like I'm being silenced."
The FBI does not seem eager to rectify the issue, either. Over 30 years ago, the FBI launched the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP), a database designed to catch rapists by linking together unsolved crimes. The problem, however, is that they don't use it. Out of roughly 18,000 police agencies across the country, only 1,400 participate in the program. The database receives reports from less than 1% of violent crimes committed annually, and a 1990 review of the system found that in 12 years the database only linked a total of 33 crimes.
Internally, the department has documented issues with workplace sexual assault and harassment — problems that have also, like the rape cases that come across an FBI agent's desk, been largely ignored. A 2020 investigation conducted by the Associated Press identified at least six sexual misconduct allegations involving senior FBI officials that occurred in the past five years — none of the officials were disciplined. Instead, several were "quietly transferred or retired, keeping their full pensions." Following the report, FBI Director Wray reassured agents that the bureau won't tolerate sexual misconduct in the workplace, "regardless of rank or title."
"This report from the DOJ devastatingly highlights, once again, that those in positions of power, the people we as victims are told to trust, we can't," Alison Turkos, an assault survivor, activist, and advocate, tells Refinery29. On October 14, 2017, Turkos was kidnapped at gunpoint by a Lyft driver, then taken across state lines where the driver and two other men brutally gang-raped her. A year later, her case was transferred from the New York Police Department (NYPD) to the FBI, then later referred to the Southern District of New York. The Southern District declined to prosecute, so now the case is with the Eastern District of New York, who is refusing to take it on.
"I have seen this in my own life," Turkos says. "Those who are supposedly meant to protest us, to help and serve us, in the end only fail us and perpetrate more trauma and cause more harm."
Refinery29 has reached out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for comment.