Lawmakers demanding change from Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics after reports of sexual abuse
INDIANAPOLIS – For the first time, former members of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team described in graphic detail the abuse they said they suffered under a longtime team physician, Dr. Larry Nassar, in a story that aired on 60 Minutes.
The report follows an extensive investigation by our newsgathering partners at the Indianapolis Star, exposing systematic problems in how and if Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, the national governing organization, reports sex abuse allegations to authorities.
“This has been a violation of the most horrible nature,” U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said in an interview with FOX 59 Monday. “And so we had wished they had stepped up a lot stronger and a lot quicker.”
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced Friday she will introduce legislation that would require USA Gymnastics, and all amateur athletic governing bodies, to immediately report allegations to authorities in wake of the organization’s handling of such allegations.
“News reports, civil and criminal cases, as well as discussions I’ve had with sex-abuse victims, appear to reveal systemic problems within USA Gymnastics that have allowed allegations of sexual abuse to go unreported,” Feinstein said in a statement.
Donnelly and Feinstein are among a group of lawmakers who have demanded answers from USA Gymnastics.
In their most recent letter dated Jan. 31, lawmakers said they found USA Gymnastics’ response “inadequate” thus far, adding “hundreds of additional sexual abuse victims have come forward to describe the horrors they endured while under the care of USA Gymnastics members.”
The letter called on USA Gymnastics to implement a number of changes including mandatory reporting of sexual abuse allegations, stronger procedures to prevent ongoing abuse and stronger oversight of adults who interact with USA Gymnastics athletes.
“It is a violation of one of the most basic trusts you could have,” Donnelly said.
More than 60 women have come forward with accusations against Nassar, the former team physician, who is now charged with numerous counts of criminal sexual conduct and child pornography.
In statements and prepared video clips, USA Gymnastics has defended its actions.
“The organization acted without hesitation,” Paul Parilla said in a prepared video statement, the organization’s board chairman. “We hired an investigator who interviewed athletes, which led USA Gymnastics to report Dr. Nassar to the FBI.”
But by USA Gymnastics’ own timeline made public last week, the organization waited five weeks before reporting any of the allegations to federal authorities.
“Regarding Dr. Larry Nassar, USA Gymnastics is appalled that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in the manner alleged,” Parilla along with CEO Steve Penny said in a statement.
The organization has also hired a former federal prosecutor who is conducting an internal investigation into its policies and practices.
But lawmakers pushing change said it’s not enough.
“We need to protect these young people,” Donnelly said. “We need to protect them and make them feel safe.”