USA Gymnastics needs to undergo a “complete culture change” throughout the entire organization to more effectively protect young athletes from sexual predators, according to a damning report released Tuesday.
The 144-page report by former federal prosecutor Deborah Daniels suggests that a cultural shift throughout USA Gymnastics is needed following a series of civil lawsuits against the organization and the subsequent arrest of a former doctor who allegedly sexually abused teen gymnasts during their time on the team. Daniels later said the number of sex-abuse victims, already in the hundreds, in fact has been under-reported.
“In order to protect the young athletes in its charge, USA Gymnastics needs to undergo a complete cultural change, permeating the entire organization and communicated to the field in all its actions,” the report reads. “Further, USA Gymnastics needs to take action to ensure that this change in culture also is fully embraced by the clubs that host member coaches, instructors and athletes.”
Safety of athletes needs to be the “primary focus” moving forward, according to the report, which identified four aspects of making that change happen: a “strong voice” from the organization itself, clear standards of behavior, accountability and providing necessary resources to help maintain those standards.
“We believe, based on our extensive review, that only this kind of public shift in mindset, including changes in practice and a culture of accountability throughout the organization, will enable USA Gymnastics to improve its ability to protect the young competitors in its charge, and other young aspiring athletes, from harm,” the report continued. “The safety of countless young gymnasts throughout the country is dependent on the ability of USA Gymnastics to effect this cultural change.”
A judge in Michigan on Friday ordered Dr. Larry Nassar — a longtime USA Gymnastics Women’s National Team physician — to stand trial for allegedly assaulting six young gymnasts who claim he molested them during treatment for injuries. The case is one of four criminal proceedings against Nassar in the state, the Associated Press reports.
During a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Daniels said the number of athletes victimized in the sprawling sexual abuse scandal is “far higher” than the hundreds previously reported. But Daniels said she was unable to estimate how many club-level and elite gymnasts have been sexually abused because the sport’s governing body did not task her to investigate past misconduct, NBC News reports.
“This was a forward-looking report and not a rear-view-mirror report,” Daniels told reporters.
Former federal prosecutor Deborah Daniels speaks to reporters in September 2015.AP
The report cites Nassar several times and notes that a total of 41 women reportedly have filed or joined civil lawsuits against him alleging sexual abuse. He also has been indicted federally on child porn charges, according to the report.
The report also notes there’s no current written protocol for handling allegations of abuse, there’s insufficient accountability regarding the investigative process and no auditing of the procedure to make sure it’s being done appropriately.
“For example, while we are not aware of specific situations in which a temporarily suspended coach was permitted to continue coaching during his suspension, there appears to be no mechanism for ensuring this does not happen,” according to the report.
The report — which listed 70 recommendations by Daniels, many of which were unanimously approved by the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors — also called for policies banning adults from being alone with minor gymnasts “at all times” and prohibiting unrelated adults from sharing or being alone in a sleeping room with the young athletes.
Daniels also suggested USA Gymnastics adult members be blocked from having “out-of-program” contact with gymnasts via email, text or social media.
“We have a lot of important work ahead of us, but we will be a stronger and better organization by committing to meaningful change,” an open letter published Tuesday by USA Gymnastics read. “We will use the voices and perspectives represented in the report as a guide for the future. Success in competition is important, but not at the expense of an athlete’s health and safety. We are determined to do better.”