USA TODAY International Edition

Gymnasts bare souls, but who’s listening?

- Nancy Armour Columnist

For several hours, McKayla Maroney sat on her bedroom floor and explained to FBI agents, in graphic detail, the many times she'd been sexually abused by Larry Nassar.

Telling strangers about the worst moments in her life was difficult and uncomforta­ble. But the Olympic gold medalist gymnast did it anyway because she believed it would protect other young women from similar horrors.

She was crying as she finished. On the other end of the phone, dead silence. Until, finally, a question:

“Is that all?”

“Those words in itself were one of the worst moments of this entire process for me,” Maroney recalled Wednesday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the FBI's mishandlin­g of the Nassar abuse case. “To have my abuse minimized and disregarde­d by the people who were supposed to protect me, just to feel like my abuse was not enough.”

Unfortunat­ely, it still isn't.

As powerful as it was to see Maroney, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols in that Senate hearing room and listen to their searing accounts of how they were betrayed and failed by the FBI and others who were supposed to protect them, it also felt hollow.

Many of the senators tripping over themselves to express sorrow and empathy for these women are the very same ones who, either by action or inaction, have thought nothing of doing harm to other women.

They doubted and disparaged the women who accused then- Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual abuse. They supported President Donald Trump despite more than a dozen credible allegation­s of abuse. They stood by the past four years as the Department of Education watered down Title IX, making women on university campuses less safe.

And it's not just them.

The same people who express indignatio­n on behalf of Nassar's most famous survivors rarely muster the same outrage for the hundreds and thousands of anonymous women who are abused, instead asking what they did to put

themselves in that situation or wondering why they didn't report. Those who express disgust at the atmosphere that allowed Nassar to prey on hundreds of girls and young women are silent about the culture of toxic masculinit­y that created it.

“You're fighting against a systemic problem in our country that isn't just in sports,” said Sen. Cory Booker, D- New Jersey. “We've seen it from church institutio­ns to the Boy Scouts – when you talk about pedophilia all the way to sexual assault – we see it in diners, workplaces, factory floors.

“It shouldn't take something directly happening to us to trigger our empathy and our action,” Booker said. “( In) a country where this violence happens every single day … we are all playing a part in a culture that allows this to happen.”

It is uncomforta­ble, and for some people will no doubt be inconvenie­nt, to draw comparison­s between the compassion shown to the Nassar survivors and the cruelty with which others who've been abused are treated. But abuse doesn't happen in a vacuum.

Firing the FBI agent who ignored Maroney's complaint and then, almost two years later, spun a false narrative out of it, might bring a measure of satisfacti­on. But it doesn't change the attitudes that caused it to happen in the first place.

Criticizin­g the U. S. Department of Justice for not having the integrity to show up at the hearing, let alone prosecute the FBI agents involved in the case, might make for good sound bites. But it does nothing to ensure it won't happen again.

Of course, the Nassar survivors want answers. They are owed that, at the very least.

What they want more, what prompted them to come forward in the first place, was to ensure this doesn't happen again. To change the culture, in the Olympic movement and beyond, so that women who come forward are trusted and believed.

To reeducate all of society so sexual violence doesn't occur in the first place.

“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar,” Biles said. “And I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrate­d his abuse.”

The members of the Judiciary Committee will no doubt be proud of themselves for the hearing, which dominated news coverage throughout the day Wednesday.

But did they actually learn anything?

I'm not talking about getting FBI Director Christophe­r Wray to confirm that Michael Langeman, the lead agent in the Nassar case, had been fired. I'm talking about substantiv­e changes all institutio­ns could implement to make women and children safer and feel more protected.

While a few senators had specific questions for the gymnasts, most seemed more interested in simply hearing themselves talk. Asking Biles, Maroney, Nichols and Raisman to bare their traumas in a nationally televised hearing just so the senators could pontificate on the details felt almost like another form of abuse.

It didn't go unnoticed that some of the senators so eager to speak when the gymnasts were in front of them were silent when it came to pressing the people actually in a position to do something, Wray and Michael Horowitz, the inspector general of the Justice Department.

“I … know you didn't come here for our kind words, our empathy,” Booker said. “You came here for justice.”

It has been five years since Nassar's crimes were revealed publicly, yet the survivors live with that trauma every day. Biles alluded to having to withdraw from several events at the Tokyo Olympics, saying, “The impacts of this man's abuse are not ever over or forgotten.”

It's the same for every other survivor of sexual violence.

Maybe the next time a woman comes forward to accuse a Supreme Court nominee or a president, a few senators will remember that, and show her the same kind of empathy they were so eager to show at Wednesday's hearing.

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 ?? ANNA MONEYMAKER/ GETTY IMAGES ?? From left, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols appear before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss the FBI’s handling of the Larry Nassar investigat­ion.
ANNA MONEYMAKER/ GETTY IMAGES From left, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols appear before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss the FBI’s handling of the Larry Nassar investigat­ion.

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