UNITED STATES — Marred by a sex abuse scandal involving dozens of accusers, USA Gymnastics says it’s adopting reforms to better prevent and respond to any future cases of abuse.
Now, all members must report any suspected sexual misconduct to legal authorities and the US Center for SafeSport, which works to eliminate abuse in amateur and professional sports.
And any adult who has been kicked out of a club will be tracked in a database to make sure he or she doesn’t endanger athletes in other clubs.
The changes stem from a former prosecutor’s lengthy report highlighting an array of shortcomings by USA Gymnastics in combating abuse.
“In order to protect the young athletes in its charge, USA Gymnastics needs to undergo a complete cultural change,” wrote Deborah Daniels, the investigator hired to review USA Gymnastics’ policies and practices.
“According to published reports, hundreds of gymnasts over the last 20 years have reported abuse at the hands of coaches or other authority figures in the sport, many of whom were involved with USA Gymnastics as members or contractors.”
One of the problems, Daniels wrote, was that USA Gymnastics had “no requirement that members report abuse, much less any sanction for failure to do so.”
USA Gymnastics is a behemoth in the gymnastics world, with more than 174,000 members. Not only does it set national policies for the sport, it also trains and selects athletes for the world championships and Olympics.
The program has enjoyed massive success on the international stage, racking up 12 medals at the Rio Olympics and back-to-back women’s team gold medals in the past two Olympics. But behind that sparkling image, former athletes say, were cases of hidden sexual abuse.
Former team doctor charged
For years, Dr. Larry Nassar was revered for his work with Olympic team members. So when Rachael Denhollander was 15, she was thrilled to be treated by Nassar — until, she said, he abused her.
First, the doctor put two fingers in her vagina, though she said she thought during the visit that it was intervaginal muscular work, Denhollander testified last month.
At another appointment, she said, the doctor unhooked her bra and reached her left breast.
“I froze, because I knew that was sexual assault,” Denhollander said.
More than 50 complaints have surfaced against Nassar, who now faces charges of sexual assault and possession of child pornography.
And a federal lawsuit names USA Gymnastics as a defendant, claiming it was negligent in allowing abuse to occur.
Nassar has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Scandal leads to change
After widespread complaints against Nassar, USA Gymnastics hired former federal prosecutor Daniels to independently review the organization’s policies and practices on alleged sexual misconduct.
On Monday, Daniels submitted her report, which includes 70 recommendations. The USA Gymnastics board of directors “unanimously accepted her recommendations and is developing the plan for implementation,” the board said in a statement Tuesday.
In addition to requiring members to report suspected sexual abuse, other notable reforms include:
— Requiring owners of member clubs (and anyone who works with children at those clubs) to be members of USA Gymnastics
— Implementing an abuse prevention training plan for members, parents and athletes
— Enforcing “serious consequences for failure to report abuse,” up to possible expulsion from USA Gymnastics
— Creating a formal monitoring plan for athlete housing at the national team training center
— Removing the “athlete representative,” tasked with ensuring the welfare of gymnasts at the training center, from the Olympic selection committee so athletes can feel more comfortable reporting abuse to him or her
Paul Parilla, chairman of the USA Gymnastics board of directors, acknowledged Tuesday that more needed to be done to protect athletes.
“USA Gymnastics is very sorry that anyone has been harmed during his or her gymnastics career, and we offer our deepest regrets to any athlete who suffered abuse or mistreatment while participating in the sport,” he said.
“Success in competition is important, but not at the expense of an athlete’s health and safety. We are determined to do better.”