We can all probably agree that protecting children from sex offenders should be the number one priority for organizations that routinely expose children to close contact with adults. Allegations of predatory sexual behavior should always be investigated or at least reported to authorities with appropriate expertise to investigate them. All fifty states even provide immunity from suit for good faith reports of child sexual victimization. What, then, explains the behavior of one of the most well-respected and well-known such organizations in their abject failure to protect young gymnasts from becoming victims of such predators?
News broke this week of a longstanding pattern by USA Gymnastics (USA-G) of ignoring reports of the sexual victimization of child athletes by its coaches. USA-G is the governing body for gymnastics in the US and the pipeline for Olympic athletes. This organization boasts major sponsors like Hershey’s and AT&T, and has more than one hundred thousand members, most of whom begin their interactions with USA-G as children. In an expose published by the Indianapolis Star, USA-G’s outrageous conduct is detailed in heartbreaking interviews with parents of young female gymnasts sexually victimized by coaches all over the US. In spite of the many previous such scandals in the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and Penn State University, after which the public might expect youth serving organizations to constantly re-evaluate their own child safeguarding policies, USA Gymnastics now joins the ranks of organizations that seem to put themselves and their reputations above the children they are supposed to serve, nurture and protect.
USA Gymnastics has defended themselves by claiming that all the allegations reported were mere “hearsay,” and they had no duty to investigate or alert authorities. According to them, they take this stance because without having the child victims or their parents sign a first hand report disclosing sexual victimization, there is no duty to investigate or report to law enforcement or child welfare agencies. In addition to being legally wrong about their obligations as a youth serving organization alerted to abuse allegations, this attitude shows how little they know, understand, or seem to care about the realities of the dynamics of child sexual victimization. Many child sexual victimization allegations come to light via hearsay, or through someone other than the victim child. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the times children are sexually victimized, they do not report it. This is a well-established fact a youth serving organization truly dedicated to the welfare of children should make it their business to know.
The Star reported that USA Gymnastics has files on as many as 50 separate coaches which have not been investigated or reported. These include serious sexual assaults and repeated complaints by fellow coaches and parents, all of whom observed behavior that concerned them. In the case of coach William McCabe, USA Gymnastics received at least 4 reports over several years alleging his inappropriate conduct with young female gymnasts. However, they relied upon their policy and did not take those allegations seriously, nor did they even make any inquiry of the coach or potential victims. And so, McCabe was left free to prey on little girls. These reports spanned years and none were ever acted upon, leaving McCabe free to molest and videotape children while they were changing clothes. He also posted those videos of nude little girls on the Internet. One gym owner warned USA Gymnastics that they should lock McCabe “in a cage before someone is raped.” He was only caught and prosecuted after the parents of an 11 year-old girl complained to the FBI about McCabe’s emails to their daughter.
McCabe is just one among many such cases ignored by USA Gymnastics. How many children have been sexually assaulted after reports were ignored by them? How many children continue to suffer in silence because nobody in a position of responsibility stepped in to help them? How many children is it ok to ignore in the pursuit of Olympic glory? The answer, of course, is none. No glory is worth the suffering of a child being sexually assaulted. It is no longer enough to look away and say you didn’t have PROOF. We should not tolerate this obvious willful blindness to the suffering of children.
Upon the opening of the Summer Olympics, the United States Olympic Committee was asked if they would investigate this appalling lack of basic child safeguarding by USA Gymnastics. Surely they have already launched an investigation, right? They must have retained experts to look into not just USA Gymnastics but all the youth-serving organizations under their august umbrella, true? When asked at a news conference, the US Olympic Committee announced, “We do not intend to investigate ... we do however have what we think is a state-of-the-art policy regarding abuse and misconduct,” said USOC chief executive officer Scott Blackmun. So, once again, children pay the price and the bureaucrats turn a blind eye to their suffering and forget about it. Nelson Mandela said “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Will we answer this outrageous revelation with action or silence? Our children deserve action. They’ve already suffered for our silence.
For information on how to keep your children safe from sexual victimization or other abuse while in the care of youth serving organizations please go to Safe4Athletes.org for model policies and procedures.