Investigative reporter Marisa Kwiatkowski was working on a story about the failure to report sexual abuse within Indiana’s schools when she received a tip from one of her sources suggesting she take a look at USA Gymnastics. The tip led to the uncovering of a massive scandal by the organization and the discovery of the widespread abuse young girls had faced for decades at the hands of Larry Nassar.
Kwiatkowski will be in Grand Rapids tonight as part of The Robert Mayberry Comm-Unity Series, a new speaker series at Grand Valley State University focused on “public intellectuals, practitioners, and alumni who have benefitted and/or engage in the kind of cross-disciplinary education and practice that leads to the betterment of localities across the United States and the world.”
Kwiatkowski will discuss the work her and her team did at The Indianapolis Star to uncover the decades-long abuse.
This will not be Kwiatkowski’s first time at GVSU. She is a 2005 graduate of the university’s School of Communications.
After graduating from GVSU, Kwiatkowski said she followed the job opportunities, eventually landing at The Indianapolis Star in July 2013 as an investigative journalist.
“I started doing investigative pieces while covering various beats,” she explained. “I was doing investigative work relating to city government and criminal court coverage. . . . I was doing that kind of work already in the various jobs I held when I was asked at The Times of Northwest Indiana, a prior paper I worked for, to do investigations full time and that was the last time I had a beat. I’ve been doing investigations full time since 2009.”
Kwiatkowski focuses specifically on investigations relating to social services issues, including child abuse and neglect, poverty, elder abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and access to mental health services.
“I had been working on an investigation into the failure to report sexual abuse in schools,” she said. “We’ve had a number of local cases here in Indiana in which school officials knew about a sexual relationship between students and an employee of the school and yet they didn’t immediately report it to police or to child protective services as required by law. So I was doing a broader story about why does this keep happening and why does it seem to be so common. As I was doing that piece I had a source reach out and suggest looking into USA Gymnastics and their handling of such allegations.”
With that tip, which she received in March of 2016, Kwiatkowski was on a plane to Georgia that same day. As the investigation unfolded, the team grew to three reporters, a visual journalist and an editor, who were assembled to work on the project full time.
“We published the first part of our investigation into USA Gymnastics’ handling of sexual abuse allegations first. It was the result of that reporting that we received the tip about Larry Nassar,” Kwiatkowski said about how the work unfolded.
By the time the investigation concluded, Kwiatkowski said the team had made public records requests in at least 23 states and had flown to more than a dozen states.
“Our bosses were incredibly supportive and believed in the work we were doing,” she said.
Kwiatkowski said the biggest take away she hopes people recognize out of her story is that people have power when they use their voice.
“The series my colleagues and I produced really shows the power of people using their voices,” she said. “You saw that during Larry Nassar’s sentencing. You had one person who was willing to share their voice, which led to another person being willing to share their story and it continued on.
“In the first state court sentencing you had 156 survivors share their stories and it wasn’t originally planned to be that many. Other survivors heard other people sharing their stories and they felt comfortable and driven to share theirs. I also think the power of them sharing their stories is really what has driven a lot of the change that has happened in the Olympic sports movement and in USA Gymnastics.”
The event is being held in the Loosemore Auditorium tonight at 6 p.m. It is free and open to the public.
*Photo courtesy of The Indianapolis Star