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U.S. Olympic Committee Failed To Protect Athletes From Sexual Predators: Report

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The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) failed to adequately protect athletes, who were often underage, from sexual abuse and assault, according to an independent investigation commissioned by the committee itself. 

A report (PDF) was released this weeek, which was conducted by the Ropes & Gray law firm, looking into the abuse of hundreds of female athletes by former team physician Larry Nassar.

Findings suggest that Nassar was able to commit thousands of sexual assaults due to an environment that allowed his predatory nature to thrive safely.

“While Nassar bears ultimate responsibility for his decades-long abuse of girls and young women, he did not operate in a vacuum,” the report states. “Instead, he acted within an ecosystem that facilitated his criminal acts. Numerous institutions and individuals enabled his abuse and failed to stop him, including coaches at the club and elite level, trainers and medical professionals, administrators and coaches at Michigan State University, and officials at both United States of America Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee.”

The investigators noted that individuals within the institutions ignored “red flags” and failed to recognize textbook grooming behavior. They also noted there were times when officials dismissed “clear calls for help from girls and young women who were being abused by Nassar.”

The behavior went on for years until some athletes came forward to accuse Nassar, a former Michigan State University (MSU) gynecologist who worked with USA Gymnastics, of abuse and assault.

Many of the women, who call themselves the “Sister Survivors”, indicate that they told MSU staff, USA Gymnastics officials and others about Nassar’s behavior, but were discouraged from reporting the incidents. Some testimony even suggested that MSU officials told the survivors that they simply did not know the difference between sexual assault and a medical examination. However, after victims began to step forward publicly, the abuse finally got over-due attention and Nassar was arrested, tried, and found guilty on multiple charges.

The Olympic Committee issued a response to the report’s findings on December 10, noting that it has already implemented a number of reforms and initiatives in order to prevent sexual abuse in the future.

“The U.S. Olympic community failed the victims, survivors and their families, and we apologize again to everyone who has been harmed,” Susanne Lyons, the incoming USOC board chair, said in the statement. “The USOC board commissioned this independent investigation because we knew we had an obligation to find out how this happened and to take important steps to prevent and detect abuse. We now have a much more comprehensive view of individual and institutional failures.”

Lyons said everyone in the Olympic community, including the committee, needs to learn from the report and take appropriate actions.

The report found that, overall, neither USOC or USA Gymnastics failed to keep pace with best practices to prevent abuse which are used by other organizations that involve youth participation. The organizations failed to take a child-first approach with their decisions.

Other critics have said that the organizations were too concerned with collecting medals, sponsors and prestige and placed those things ahead of child safety, to the point where they dismissed children’s cries for help as they were being repeatedly abused by Nassar and others.

Recent court documents indicate that former USA Gymnastics (USAG) President Kathy Scanlan said she told the committee of abuse issues during her term from 1994 to 1998, but very little action was taken.

Scanlan’s testimony claims that she published the names of USAG members who were fired due to suspicions of abuse in USA Gymnastics magazine when she got no help from the Olympic committee.

Bob Colarossi, who became USAG president after Scanlan, also said he tried to address problems and sent a letter to USOC in 1999, warning that the safety procedures to prevent abuse were inadequate.

USOC has officially filed a complaint seeking to remove USAG’s status as the governing group overseeing the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.

Nassar will spend the rest of his life in jail, having received a federal sentence of 60 years on child pornography charges. He has also received two additional sentences; including one for 40 to 175 years, and another of 40 to 125 years from verdicts in two Michigan courts.

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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