A blind eye to sex abuse: How USA Gymnastics failed to report cases
Continuing the theme of lack of accountability for crimes of various sorts, take a look at how USA Gymnastics has protected sexual predators and abusers, just as the Catholic church did—and probably for much the same reason: to avoid scandal, and to hell with the victims.
Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia and Tim Evans report in the Indy Star:
Top executives at one of America’s most prominent Olympic organizations failed to alert authorities to many allegations of sexual abuse by coaches — relying on a policy that enabled predators to abuse gymnasts long after USA Gymnastics had received warnings.
An IndyStar investigation uncovered multiple examples of children suffering the consequences, including a Georgia case in which a coach preyed on young female athletes for seven years after USA Gymnastics dismissed the first of four warnings about him.
In a 2013 lawsuit filed by one of that coach’s victims, two former USA Gymnastics officials admitted under oath that the organization routinely dismissed sexual abuse allegations as hearsay unless they came directly from a victim or victim’s parent.
Legal experts and child advocates expressed alarm about that approach, saying the best practice is to report every allegation to authorities. Laws in every state require people to report suspected child abuse.
“USAG failed at this,” said Lisa Ganser, whose daughter filed the Georgia lawsuit, which is still being argued. “USA Gymnastics had enough information, I think, to have done something about this. It didn’t have to happen to my daughter, and it didn’t have to happen to other little girls.”
USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body, develops the U.S. Olympic team and promotes the industry at all levels. Its members include more than 121,000 athletes and 3,000 gyms. The organization touts itself as a “big time brand” with sponsors such as AT&T and Hershey’s. After the Rio Olympics, which start this week, its premier athletes will be showcased on a 36-city Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions, a one-two punch of publicity that typically prompts a membership surge at gyms.
USA Gymnastics would not disclose the total number of sexual misconduct allegations it receives each year. But records show the organization compiled complaint dossiers on more than 50 coaches and filed them in a drawer in its executive office in Indianapolis. The contents of those files remain secret, hidden under seal in the case filed by Ganser’s daughter. IndyStar, as part of the USA TODAY Network, filed a motion seeking to make the files public. The judge in that case has not yet ruled.
But even without access to those files, IndyStar tracked down four cases in which USA Gymnastics was warned of suspected abuse by coaches but did not initiate a report to authorities.
Those coaches went on, according to police and court records, to abuse at least 14 underage gymnasts after the warnings:
- USA Gymnastics received a detailed complaint in 2011 about Marvin Sharp, who was named 2010 national Women’s Coach of the Year. It described inappropriate touching of minors and warned that he shouldn’t be around children. Four years later, USA Gymnastics reported Sharp to police — but only after it was confronted with another disturbing allegation about him. This one led to Sharp being accused of touching a gymnast’s vagina, trimming her pubic hair and taking sexually explicit pictures of her beginning when she was 12 years old. Shortly after he was charged in federal court in Indianapolis last year, he killed himself in jail.
- USA Gymnastics had compiled a thick file of complaints about coach Mark Schiefelbein years before he was charged with molesting a Tennessee girl when she was 10 years old. The girl’s family . . .
And, of course, the USA Gymnastics executives will suffer no accountability, though clearly they are accessories after the fact (and before the fact in subsequent abuse) and are guilty of obstruction of justice. But I predict nothing will be done and they will suffer no penalties whatsoever.
Do read the entire article. Also online:
And do read the remainder of the article at the link. There’s a lot more, and much that is shocking, particularly the callousness regarding the victims. USA Gymnastics simply does not care about the victims, as they made clear.