For several hours, MacKayla Maroney sat on her bedroom floor and explained in graphic detail to FBI agents, several times that she was sexually abused by Larry Nassar.
It was difficult and uncomfortable to tell strangers about the worst moments of my life. But the Olympic gold medalist did so because she believed it would protect other young women from similar horrors.
She was crying when she finished. On the other end of the phone, dead silence. Until, finally, one question:
“Is that all?”
“Those words in themselves were one of the worst moments of the whole process for me,” Maroni recalled Wednesday. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the FBI’s wrongdoing in the Nassar abuse case. “To minimize my abuse and to be disregarded by the people who protect me, only to realize that my abuse was not enough.”
Unfortunately, it still isn’t.
It was powerful to see Maroney, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, and Maggie Nichols in that Senate hearing room and hear their searchable accounts of how they were duped and failed by the FBI and others protecting them, it was powerful. Felt hollow too. Many senators are tripping themselves up to express sadness and sympathy for these women, the ones who, either by action or inaction, have thought nothing of harm to other women.
He doubted and humiliated the women who accused then-Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh of sexual abuse. He supported President Donald Trump, despite more than a dozen credible allegations of abuse. They stood for the last four years as the Department of Education decriminalized Title IX, making women less safe on university campuses.
And it’s not just them. The same people who express outrage on behalf of Nassar’s most famous survivors rarely express the same outrage for the hundreds and thousands of anonymous women who have been abused, instead putting themselves in that position. or wondering why they didn’t report. Those who express disgust at the environment that allowed Nassar to hunt hundreds of girls and young women remain silent about the culture of toxic masculinity that has created it.
“You’re fighting against a systemic problem in our country that just isn’t in sports,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, said. “We’ve seen it from church institutions to the Boy Scouts — when you talk about pedophilia all the way to sexual harassment — we see it in diners, workplaces, factory floors.
“Nothing should happen directly to us to trigger our empathy and our action,” Booker said. “(In) a country where this violence happens every day… we are all playing a part in a culture that allows this to happen.”
It is inconvenient, and would undoubtedly be inconvenient for some, to draw a comparison between the compassion shown and cruelty towards Nassar survivors who have been treated as abusers. But abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
The dismissal of an FBI agent who ignored Maroney’s complaint and then, nearly two years later, fired a false story out of it, could bring a measure of satisfaction. But that doesn’t change the attitudes that led to it in the first place.
Criticizing the US Justice Department for not being honest enough to attend the hearing, let alone prosecuting the FBI agents involved in the case, may sound good. But it does nothing to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Of course, the survivors want answers. They owe it, at least.
What they want more, which inspired them to come forward, was to ensure that this does not happen again. To change culture, in the Olympic movement and beyond, so that the women who came forward can be trusted and trusted.
To re-educate the entire society so that sexual violence doesn’t happen in the first place.
“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar,” Biles said. “And I also blame a whole system that enabled and criminalized its abuse.”
The members of the Judiciary Committee would undoubtedly pride themselves on the hearing that was in the news throughout the day on Wednesday. But did they really learn anything?
I’m not referring to FBI Director Christopher Wray to confirm that Michael Langman, the main agent in the Nassar case, was fired. I am talking about important changes that all institutions can implement to make women and children safer and feel more secure.
While some senators had questions specific to the gymnasts, most were more interested in hearing only themselves. Asking Biles, Maroney, Nichols, and Raisman to reveal their grief in a nationally televised hearing so that senators could voice their opinion on the details almost felt like another form of abuse.
It went unnoticed that some senators eager to speak up when gymnasts were in front of them were silent when it came to pressuring people into a position to actually do something, say Ray and Michael Horowitz, inspector general of the Justice Department.
Booker said, “I … know you didn’t come here for our kind words, our sympathy.” “You have come here for justice.”
It’s been five years since Nassar’s crimes came to the public notice, yet survivors live with that trauma every day. “The effects of this man’s abuse will never end or be forgotten,” Biles pointed to his withdrawal from several events at the Tokyo Olympics. It is the same for every other survivor of sexual violence.
Hardly it seems, some senators may remember these women’s words from Wednesday when they next attend a Supreme Court confirmation or question the Secretary of Education.
Maybe the next time a woman comes forward to accuse a Supreme Court candidate or president, senators will remember her, and show her the same kind of empathy they were eager to show at this hearing.