Opinion: Nassar case a call to action in Washington to protect children

By Congress Member Carolyn Maloney

This January, the entire country was stunned to watch and hear one young woman after another courageously step up to the microphone to detail their experiences of sexual abuse committed by Larry Nassar, and that they represented hundreds of other women around the country.  As each told their story, I was struck by how many people failed to protect these young girls and how many red flags were blatantly ignored, all allowing Nassar to continue his abuse over decades.

These girls and women turned to the adults they should have been able to trust – coaches, school administrators, the police – and each time they were dismissed and ignored, their stories covered up. Each and every organization tasked with their protection made decisions to defend themselves and not the innocent girls whose safety should have been their priority. A system that chooses prestige, power, and gold medals above the health and safety of its athletes has a lot to answer for.

That is why, on January 25, I asked the Committee of Oversight and Government Reform, on which I am a senior member, to immediately begin investigating how this could have happened. Chairman Gowdy agreed, and I joined him, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings and other members of our Committee in calling upon the US Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University, Twistars USA, and Karolyi Ranch to explain how Nassar’s crimes were allowed to occur and persist for decades. In light of recent reporting, I have also asked Chairman Gowdy to expand this investigation to include the FBI, NCAA and U.S. Department of Education.

Larry Nassar will rightly spend the rest of his life in jail, and I hope this can bring his victims at least some peace. But to truly honor them, we must ensure this never happens again.  That requires action. We must answer a difficult question: how do you find justice when the perpetrator is not just a person, but a system?

Nationwide, we’ve heard a chorus of “Me Too,” of victims coming out of the shadows and telling their stories of abuse, harassment and discrimination. Their stories have erupted into the public sphere, and sparked a movement for change. We owe every victim who has bravely stepped forward our commitment to ending the trend of abuse and violence that has gone on for too long. Yes, we must listen to these experiences, but it is just an incumbent upon us to take action. Justice has already been delayed too long for Nassar’s victims and countless others.

Sadly we cannot cross our fingers that Larry Nassar was uniquely evil, that his sentencing is the end of the story. Larry Nassar was able to assault at least 265 girls and women, over at least two decades, because he was a monster of a man who was operating within institutions that seemingly valued prestige, power, and their reputations over the health and safety of those they were responsible to protect.

This is not a problem confined to one sport, one doctor or one coach.  According to the Washington Post, “more than 290 coaches and officials associated with the United States’ Olympic sport organizations have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct since 1982.” This pattern of putting the reputation of the institution above the safety of those under its protection must end now.  These women are worth far more than the gold medals they earn.

Our investigation is a critical first step to exposing these wounds to sunlight, and will inform our path forward to make sure this is never allowed to occur again.

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