Gymnast Doctor Nassar’s Victims Push Bill to Protect Young Athletes
The trial of Larry Nassar came to a close this week with the former Olympics gymnast doctor sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for molesting young girls over the course of his career.
The scandal surrounding the trial, at which nearly 140 of Nassar’s victims gave statements against him, has brought renewed attention to the Protecting Young Victims From Sexual Abuse and Sport Authorization Act, a Senate bill seeking to close the loopholes that can allow sexual abuse in sports to go unreported or unpunished.
The Senate passed the legislation in November, and the bill still must clear the House. It would require all adults working for a national governing body, such as USA Gymnastics, to report all suspicions of sexual abuse of children to law enforcement. The Hill continues:
In essence, the anticipated legislation creates a mandatory reporting obligation in youth sport.
Essentially, reporting statutes require if you see or suspect something — say something. In many youth sport scenarios, however, the problem is not that an individual failed to say something, rather that the person failed to see or suspect. In other words, youth sport personnel must be trained to recognize and understand suspicious behaviors: specifically, the grooming process of the sexual offender. The grooming process is the method utilized by an offender to gain access to a child within the offender’s age and gender of preference, groom that child for sexual interaction, then keep the child silent.
The bill would also allocate funds for the creation of a nonpartisan, independent body to which Olympic athletes can report sexual abuse, and it would extend the statute of limitations to give victims more time to take legal action against their abusers. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who introduced the legislation, said this is important because it is “often difficult for children to recognize that they have had crimes committed against them until much later on into adulthood.”
Feinstein added in a news release, “Sexual abuse is one of the most heinous crimes and our legislation will finally ensure that adults who are responsible for the safety of millions of young athletes will be held accountable for preventing abuse and reporting any allegation of abuse.”
Former U.S. national champion gymnast Mattie Larson, one of those who testified against Nassar during his trial, and several other gymnasts met with lawmakers in 2017. ESPN writes that the bill is a result of those meetings:
From that meeting, Feinstein and others in the Senate drafted a bill to make it mandatory for amateur athletic organizations such as USA Gymnastics to report any allegations of sexual assault immediately to law enforcement. The bill also aims to create a method for all youth athletes in those organizations to bring allegations of abuse to an independent entity that would not have any potential conflicts of interest in reporting a potential crime.
The Senate passed a revised bill in November, which is awaiting approval in the House of Representatives. A spokeswoman from Feinstein’s office said they expect that vote will come in the next couple of weeks. It will need a two-thirds majority in order to pass an expedited process to becoming law.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has not scheduled the bill for a vote in his chamber. While testifying during Nassar’s sentencing hearing, Larson called on Ryan to take action on the legislation, saying, “Today I call on Speaker Paul Ryan to schedule this for a vote immediately. … We must ensure that ample steps are made to prevent anything of this nature and magnitude from happening again.”