Raphael Goetter / Flickr / CC-BY

A new investigation conducted by IndyStar reveals that over the past 20 years, rampant sexual abuse of child gymnasts has occurred across the United States. IndyStar, the homepage of the Indianapolis Star and part of the USA Today Network, found that 115 adults have been accused of abuse, including Olympics coaches and mentors, as well as those playing less prominent roles in the sport. The news outlet based its report on a review of “hundreds of police files and court cases.” Most of the victims were girls, one as young as 6 years old.

Among the alleged abusers was onetime coach Jeffrey Bettman, who in early 2016 pleaded guilty to multiple counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, plus one child pornography count. Bettman, now serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison, hid cameras in changing rooms to film girls undressing. He covered his tracks by moving to different gyms in a number of states over the course of a decade. When police finally caught up with him, they found in his possession more than 450 videos of female athletes from 8 to 16 years of age.

David Reiakvam, a dentist who also coached acrobats, pleaded guilty in 2012 to molesting two girls who had lived in his home in Temecula, Calif. One of the girls claimed that Reiakvam began raping her when she was 13 years old. Although Reiakvam did not face rape charges, he pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd acts and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Here’s more from IndyStar’s article detailing the investigation:

At least 368 gymnasts have alleged some form of sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches, gym owners and other adults working in gymnastics. That’s a rate of one every 20 days. And it’s likely an undercount.

IndyStar previously reported that top officials at USA Gymnastics, one of the nation’s most prominent Olympic organizations, failed to alert police to many allegations of sexual abuse that occurred on their watch and stashed complaints in files that have been kept secret. But the problem is far worse. A nine-month investigation found that predatory coaches were allowed to move from gym to gym, undetected by a lax system of oversight, or dangerously passed on by USA Gymnastics-certified gyms. …

The number of sexual abuse cases identified by IndyStar was surprising given how little publicity the issue of sex abuse in gymnastics has received, said Marci Hamilton, CEO of CHILD USA, a research and advocacy group based at the University of Pennsylvania.

It also concerned her that no one had bothered to count until now.

“I’m sad for all the parents and athletes who didn’t have the kind of warning that that number gives you,” Hamilton said. “But my guess is that it’s a pretty severe undercount.”

Hamilton and other experts said the actual number of victims is likely far higher — perhaps three to five times more — because the vast majority never come forward to report their abuser. Reporting rates, Hamilton said, may be even lower in sports because of the power coaches have over their athletes.

USA Gymnastics said it did not know how many children have alleged sexual abuse against its members.

Not all gyms and gymnasts in America are members of USA Gymnastics. But the Indianapolis-based national governing body is the country’s largest gymnastics organization, controlling the path to the Olympics, setting rules and policies that govern the sport, and promoting gymnastics on the grass-roots level. USA Gymnastics’ membership includes more than 125,000 athletes; 25,000 professional members, which includes coaches; and 3,450 clubs.

— Posted by Donald Kaufman.

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