Jeanne Shaheen Wants USA Gymnastics To Be Investigated For Enabling Larry Nassar's Abuse
Horrified by stories of how former a Team USA Gymnastics doctor sexually assaulted young girls under the guise of conducting examinations or treatments, New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has urged Congress to investigate USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee to determine what role, if any, either institution might have played in enabling Larry Nassar's abuse. More than 160 women and girls have come forward to accuse Nassar of sexually assaulting them, including former Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Jordyn Wieber.
In a letter sent to Sens. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer shortly after Nassar was sentenced to between 40 and 175 years in prison Wednesday, Shaheen urged the Senate's majority and minority leaders to immediately establish a Select Committee to investigate the role both organizations played "in allowing serial pedophile Dr. Larry Nassar unsupervised access to hundreds of girls" over the course of multiple decades. Shaheen charged that because the U.S. Olympic Committee is a federally chartered institution, the Senate had "a clear responsibility" to expand the investigation into the former doctor's abuse "beyond the narrow criminal charges" handed down to Nassar.
"I think it's fair to say that the criminal justice system has worked with respect to Larry Nassar — he's going to be put away for the rest of his life," Shaheen said Thursday during a press call with reporters. "But everyone involved in this scandal has not been held accountable." Shaheen said listening to the impact statements delivered during Nassar's seven-day sentencing hearing had left her "heartbroken."
"I have daughters and granddaughters who played organized sports and I can't imagine what these young women and their families have been feeling," she added.
The senator said she would be working with Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst to introduce a resolution to establish a Select Committee tasked with investigating the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics. However, as of Thursday afternoon it was not clear exactly when such a resolution would be introduced, although Ernst did confirm her support for Shaheen's call to form a Select Committee.
"While some justice has finally been served, there are a great deal of questions that still remain," Ernst said in a statement to Bustle. "The reality is, from what we know, this happened to over a hundred athletes over several decades, on the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics' watch. A Select Committee dedicating its complete attention to USOC's and USA Gymnastics' role in this tragedy is imperative to holding the appropriate parties accountable and working to ensure this doesn't happen again."
While there's no timeframe, or even a guarantee the Senate will form a Select Committee to investigate on the table just yet, Shaheen said there is interest. "I've received a lot of interest from colleagues," the senator told reporters Thursday. "We have heard from Sen. Schumer's office that they will be looking seriously at it. I have not yet heard from Sen. McConnell, but I think the fact that this is going to be a bipartisan effort is very important."
A spokesman for Schumer told Bustle the senator "believes the Senate must take action to investigate the role of the USOC and USAG with regards to their handling of the Nassar case, and he looks forward to examining all the proposals to do so."
Shaheen said her resolution to launch a Congressional investigation into the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics would work on "a parallel front" to legislation Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced last year to hold those institutions accountable. The Senate passed Feinstein's legislation, which would require amateur athletics governing bodies immediately report allegations of sexual abuse to federal law enforcement or a child-welfare agency, in November and is currently awaiting a vote in the House.
"The U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics helped to create the perfect environment for a child predator," Shaheen said, adding that USOC needed to answer "some tough questions" in light of Nassar's abuse. "Why did they allow Larry Nasser unfettered access to young girls and why were those young girls told they would be punished if they didn't see Nassar?" Shaheen asked. "Why weren't there red flags when a doctor wrote a policy that gave him access to young girls and why weren't there red flags as Dr. Nassar's despicable and phony examination techniques were revealed?"
Shaheen isn't the only one calling for an investigation into the two organizations. Two-time Olympic gymnast Raisman, along with a number of other young women Nassar abused, have urged investigations into both. "We need to hold these organizations accountable," Raisman said Thursday during an interview on Today. "This is bigger than Larry Nassar. We have to get to the bottom of how this disaster happened. If we don't figure out how it did, we can't be confident that it won't happen again."