Nassar Assault Survivors Failed by System, Seek to File Suit Against FBI

In December 2021, news broke that USA Gymnastics reached a settlement agreement with the survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse after a five-year legal battle between the gymnasts and the governing body of the sport. The agreement ultimately was settled for a total of $380 million. While the settlement with USA gymnastics is a tremendous victory for the survivors, the women are not finished fighting the system that failed them. 

Less than six months after the case between USA Gymnastics and the gymnast survivors was settled, 13 survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse are seeking to bring another suit in which they are seeking $10 million each from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for a total of $130 million. The survivors allege that the FBI mishandled reports and evidence that could have prevented Nassar from continuing his abuse. 

Although the potential lawsuit against the FBI has only recently been brought to the attention of the media, an investigation and review of the FBI’s handling of Nassar’s abuse has been underway for some time, with the official report being released by the Department of Justice in July 2021. According to this report, USA Gymnastics reported to the FBI’s Indianapolis field office in July 2015 and the FBI’s Los Angeles office again in May 2016. The Indianapolis office’s “relative inaction of agents” prompted USA Gymnastics to seek help again nearly a year later from the LA office. While the LA office provided more help than the Indianapolis office, the report states that the FBI still failed to take action against Nassar, nor did the FBI alert local authorities regarding the suspicions raised of Nassar committing crimes. 

It wasn’t until November 2016 when Nassar was finally arrested. Nassar’s arrest occurred in Michigan, where news stories are what informed the local FBI field office of Nassar’s abuse – it was not information that the field office learned from the Indianapolis or LA offices (though it clearly should have been). To make matters worse for the FBI, the Michigan State University police department – not the FBI – had launched an investigation of Nassar that assisted the local FBI field office in collecting evidence pursuant to the arrest. 

Grace French, one of the 13 Nassar abuse survivors, stated in a press conference last week that “No one should have been assaulted after the summer of 2015 because the FBI should have done its job…To know the FBI could have helped to avoid this trauma, it disgusts me and it hurts me.” Jamie White, the attorney representing the 13 survivors, stated in a press conference: “In large part, Nassar continued to have access to countless girls on almost a daily basis. An unthinkable and unnecessary number of sexual assaults occurred at the hands of Nassar during that period of time.”

While it may seem clear that these women have a valid case against the FBI, they are unable to file a suit just yet because of federal law. White claims that the administrative tort claims may be their best bet at moving in the right direction for a potential lawsuit. According to The Washington Post: “White and his firm have not yet filed a lawsuit against the FBI but are using a mechanism to request redress under the Federal Tort Claims Act, in which administrative claims are filed to the federal agency in question, which then has six months to accept or deny them.” 

The FBI should be ashamed of themselves and their failure of so many young women who, in pursuit of their gymnast careers, were forced to endure traumatic sexual abuse from an individual who was supposed to be trusted as their doctor. From the time that the FBI had been alerted of Nassar’s behavior and his ultimate arrest, the FBI essentially allotted Nassar an additional 16 months to continue his abuse. During this time, Nassar should have, at the very least, been suspended from providing medical care and being around the athletes. It’s important to emphasize that the 13 survivors who are seeking to file tort claims against the FBI allege to have been abused during this 16 month timeframe. That is 13 young women that the system outright failed, and quite frankly, it’s 13 too many.

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Co-President of the Buffalo Sports & Entertainment Law Society 2021-2022.

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