The growing awareness of sexual abuse in the media has the public on high alert in all walks of life—a steady stream of investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct within religious communities, sport teams and franchises, civil service, and the workplace to name a few. It seems like every week the news cycle is dominated by another story in which a religious leader is denounced following allegations of sexual abuse against minor members of congregation. Investigations into United States Olympic teams have the parents of minor athletes with their ears to the ground, as the horror of Larry Nassar’s crimes continue to shake out in civil court. Leaders within these communities are educating themselves on how the power structure of these institutions leaves minors vulnerable and in many cases are depending on the services of independent private investigators to conduct unbiased, thorough investigations.
In cases where there are allegations of abuse, there is an immediate division between the survivor and the alleged predator. Many of the parties involved will immediately fall on one side or the other. Employers, colleagues, and public relations representatives in the alleged abuser’s life will begin a rash of character defenses, claiming that there’s no way an individual as friendly/respected/admired as them could be capable of such disgusting actions. Parents and loved ones in the survivor’s life will rally in support as they attempt to take on not just their abuser, but potentially an entire institution as well. All of the parties directly involved have a stake in the outcome of the investigation. Institutions that are suspicious of predatory behavior in their ranks often prefer to handle the investigation in-house, using their own investigators in the form of management, attorneys, or employees in another supervisory capacity to do the fact-finding. Not only can the qualifications of these individuals range across a spectrum of investigative prowess, but because they are employed by the employer of the abuser, they likely will have some sort of bias as an investigator. This is why it’s so important to hire an independent, third party private investigator from the onset of any allegations of abuse. Like any unimpeachable structure, the integrity starts at the foundation, with thorough fact-finding by an experienced, qualified investigator. Ethically, a private investigator’s only loyalty is to the truth, and without any stake in the outcome of an investigation, their findings can withstand a higher level of scrutiny than an investigator employed by the abuser’s corporation or institution.
The most qualified private investigators for sexual abuse investigations have a wide array of experiences in multiple areas of criminal justice. Unlike the resumes of corporation and institutional employees, they will have likely majored in an area of criminal justice, have worked law enforcement, have been retained by either the prosecution or defense to assist in a case, and have an intimate knowledge of criminal procedures and investigative methods. Independent private investigators have to be able to work multiple angles in an abuse investigation, vetting every statement by survivors and witnesses, as well as doing thorough fact-finding on the alleged abuser in the form of an extensive background check, with special focus on their work history and criminal record. This kind of comprehensive groundwork lays a strong foundation for any litigation that might take place following the solution of the investigation. And because the private investigator is an objective third-party, the case will have integrity in a court of law.
Another specialty of a seasoned private investigator is surveillance and undercover operations. An investigator who is able to move through a crowd completely unnoticed, melting into the background while they keep an eye on the subject. Sometimes it’s just a matter of looking like you belong, and surveilling the subject from a short distance, or keeping a digital eye on the subject in the form of a camera or tracking device. Regardless, subjects behave most naturally when they do not know they are being watched. Hiding in plain sight, private investigators are able to document an abuser’s movements, correspondence, associates, and schedule to establish means and opportunity with regard to the allegations. Private investigators specializing in undercover operations have an advantage when interviewing witnesses and subjects, building a rapport that allows them to open up to the investigator. This form of subterfuge is often crucial in abuse investigations, particularly if the allegations have not yet become public knowledge. This time is valuable to an undercover operative, because when there are abuse allegations in an institution, there is often a circumventing culture of silence within it. Employees and associates are instructed not to speak to press or law enforcement regarding the allegations, there has not been need for any sort of legal gag order, and these potential witnesses will have their guard down. Private investigators and their field investigators can garner credible leads, leading to a more comprehensive, thorough investigation.
There have been many institutions, particularly in the Catholic faith, that have been accused of what has been characterized as a “cup and ball” routine in which supervisory entities will transfer employees or members of clergy accused of sexual abuse to remote branches of their network, often in different jurisdictions, to prevent law enforcement and investigators from doing their due-diligence. Private investigators are given an autonomy that is free from bureaucratic or jurisdictional chains. They can follow leads to track down multiple witnesses and can track an abuser’s movements—all across state lines.
Regardless of an alleged abuser’s reputation or status, allegations of abuse must always be handled with due-diligence and a sense of urgency. Corporations and institutions have it only in their own interest to eliminate potential predators in their ranks. The cost to retain a private investigator to conduct a thorough, objective investigation is a small fraction of the potential cost to these entities in the form of lawsuits that result from an investigation, usually on the part of survivors who were vindicated in their accounts of trauma and betrayal on behalf of mentors and leaders in their lives. Retaining the services of a qualified private investigator can go a long way to bringing predators to justice and preventing potential ruin of institutions that otherwise provide a great service for individuals in communities across America.
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. For more information, please visit our website.
With sexual assault allegations dominating recent news cycles, Americans are further developing their figurative picture of what it’s like for a survivor of sexual assault to come forward with allegations against their abuser. When a survivor comes forward, they are subjected to scrutiny, libel/slander, and fierce criticism from private citizens like themselves about how they should have handled the situation. Knowing that, it’s not incomprehensible that rage continues to fester in the communities affected by the Larry Nassar investigation and the USA Olympic Gymnastics organization’s glacial response time to allegations against him.
Nassar is currently in federal prison serving a 60-year sentence for possession of child pornography, which is a blip compared to the sentences he received from the judges in Ingham and Eaton County, both ranging from 40 years to as long as 175 years. More than 330 women and girls have come forward claiming to be a survivor of Nassar’s abuse. His sentence came after Nassar pled guilty to possession of child pornography and sexual misconduct with the young gymnasts he treated at the famous Karolyi Ranch in Texas. Sarah Jantzi was Maggie Nichols’ coach at the time—Maggie’s allegations of abuse against Nassar are considered some of the first in the string of gymnasts who came forward after the Nassar investigations became public. Jantzi reported her concerns about Nassar to USAG after she overheard Maggie and another gymnast discussing whether Nassar’s practices were considered “normal.”
Nassar treated Maggie for a knee injury, during which he insisted on examining her groin area. He did not wear gloves, and took pains to close the door and the blinds before beginning the examination. Jantzi also contacted Maggie’s mother, Gina Nichols, who told IndyStar, “It was nothing you’d expect in a million years. I mean, I’m sending my minor daughter the last four years, one week a month, down to the Ranch to train. So proud. She’s on the USA team. Working so hard. Our family making all these sacrifices. It’s just—you wouldn’t even think this is something that would have ever happened.”
USA Gymnastics officials waited a jaw-dropping 41 days to report Nassar to police after the first hearing regarding Jantzis concerns. It’s a bad look, and to make matters worse, the organization did not inform Michigan State, where Nassar also worked with young athletes until late summer in 2016. The notoriety of some of the survivors drew a great deal of media attention when the investigation became public, and while much of the country currently associates mention of the USAG with sexual abuse allegations, the reality is this culture of silence and abuse is not unique to the USA gymnastics team. Katherine Starr, a former Olympic swimmer and abuse victim who founded Safe4Athletes, a nonprofit organization working to address and prevent abuse told the Chicago Tribune, “We’re hearing all about gymnastics, but the problems in gymnastics are equally as prevalent in every other sport…I think people are starting to understand the complexity of this, and how this stays in the system…It stays in the system because of governance, because of the people in charge.”
Just this week, two divers for the USA Diving team have filed lawsuits against their former coach, John Wingfield, claiming his academy ignored complaints against a coach under his supervision, Johel Ramirez Suarez. The divers claim the organization had knowledge of Suarez’s alleged predation prior to Suarez sexually assaulting them both. Suarez was eventually arrested in Hamilton County, Indiana in November of 2017 and was subsequently charged with 32 felony counts of child sexual abuse, earning him a spot on the USA Diving teams banned list. Even after USAG had reported Larry Nassar to the FBI (13 months after the initial hearing), they still did add his name to that list.
In a review of documents and data pertaining to the organizations governing the sports, the Washington Post revealed since 1982, there have been over 290 coaches and officials affiliated with American Olympic sports who have been accused of sexual misconduct. That number covers 15 different Olympic sports, and includes both individuals who have been convicted of their crimes and individuals who have never had to answer for the allegations made against them. The figure averages out to one official being accused of sexual misconduct every six weeks for over 35 years. If the Nassar case tells us anything about how Olympic organizations might have typically responded to abuse allegations, it’s not a mystery how a culture of abuse and silence was cultivated as many attempts to investigate the abuse were swept under the proverbial AstroTurf.
Survivors like Aly Raisman have called out USA Gymnastics, claiming that they were more concerned about guaranteeing gold medals that protecting their young athletes. “I don’t think that they cared at all. I think at first it was to ‘get him away,’ Nassar away from the Olympians, but when it was about a 10-year-old, or a 15-year-old, or a 20-year-old in Michigan they didn’t care,” Raisman told the Indy Star. That much is apparent from emails between Nassar’s legal counsel and USAG officials, in which the Olympic organization clearly took part in the effort to conceal the Nassar investigation from athletes and from the public. Aly Raisman also told IndyStar that she received a text message from the former USA Gymnastics President, Steve Penny in July of 2017, advising her that the first priority was keeping the investigation “quiet and confidential.” It would have saved many survivors like Kaylee Lorincz a great deal of pain if the organization had made allegations against Nassar public. While under investigation, Nassar treated Lorincz twice after Sarah Jantzi notified USAG about her concerns. Lorincz says that she was abused both times by the sports medicine “celebrity,” and lamented, “It could have saved many more if they could have just stopped him in 2015. It makes me angry and upset because it could have prevented so much.”
At this time, it’s difficult to determine the motives of the USOC and how they reacted to allegations against Nassar and other officials who have been accused of sexual misconduct with athletes. Did they do so out of ignorance or apathy? Or was this a focused effort to erode investigations into these allegations all together? A recent Washington Post article called for law enforcement and state attorneys to open investigations into other USA Olympic teams and organizations. John Manly, an attorney who represents many survivors of Nassar’s abuse told the publication:
“The most amazing thing about this evolution is that no one has executed a search warrant on USA Gymnastics and no one has executed one on the USOC…If anyone deserves a search warrant given the evidence to date, it’s them. If you believe these Olympic gold medalists, then [USA Gymnastics] violated the reporting laws in Indiana. I mean, why haven’t you done something?”