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Proposed Legislation Seeks To Protect Athletes From Sexual Assault

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Amid increasing evidence of widespread sexual abuse among athletes, two senators have introduced a bipartisan bill that is designed to protect U.S. Olympic athletes, since a new report suggests that the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) was both unwilling and unable to do so.

Republican Senator Jerry Moran and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced the “Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2019” (PDF) this week, which puts heavier legal liability on the committee and other amateur athletic organizations that fail to protect athletes, and would give Congress the power to dissolve such groups and decertify national government athletic groups if they fail to do so.

The legislation came following an 18-month investigation into incidents of sexual abuse involving young Olympic athletes, focusing particularly on the hundreds of abuses believed committed by former Olympic gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar.

The report was released in December, and found that USOC had safety policies that required a review panel to consider the effects on the Olympic team’s reputation, and hesitated to cut groups and facilities where abuse had occurred because they were critical training facilities.

The committee also found the policies concerning abuse were inconsistent across the different sports’ governing bodies, leading to differences in how and when background checks are conducted, the use of banned and suspended lists, whether incidents and banned lists are made public, and what offenses require banning, suspension or other actions.

Similar findings were published by an independent investigation group hired by USOC. Those investigators reported they found Nassar was able to commit thousands of sexual assaults due to an environment that allowed his predatory nature to thrive.

“First and foremost, our legislation will implement requirements to promote a culture where athletes and their best interests are put first,” the senators said in a July 30 press release. “Second, it will ensure greater transparency and accountability throughout the amateur sports movement, and, third, it will fortify the independence and capabilities of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the body responsible for investigating allegations of sexual abuse against athletes and coaches.”

The senators released a one-page summary (PDF) of the bill as well as the full text, saying they were committed to seeing the legislation through to law.

USOC and the gymnastics committee face a number of lawsuits over claims it failed to protect athletes from sexual assault. There have also been a number of sexual abuse lawsuits brought against USA Diving for alleged incidents of assault by coaches in that Olympic sport as well.

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