The sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, private schools and public schools has dominated our national dialogue, but now thanks to terrific reporting by the Indianapolis Star, the nation knows that gymnastics programs throughout the United States also are plagued sexual abuse (http://indy.st/2hSwA4k). The problem extends from the sexual abuse of young girls training to be Olympians to kids who participate in neighborhood programs. The Indianapolis Star expose is a sober reminder that adults in position of trust and authority can use their power to exploit children in almost any venue and we must be ever vigilant to protect children from this kind of harm.
The Star documented 368 gymnasts who alleged they were sexually abused by their coaches and mentors over the last twenty years. But even as the article acknowledges, this number significantly under-estimates the total number of children sexually abused. Based upon my over three decades of representing sexually abused children, I know that most victims of sexual abuse never report and take their horrible secret to their grave.
And just like the Catholic bishops and Boy Scout officials who failed to report sexual predators in their ranks, the Star reported that USA Gymnastics, one of the leading Olympic organizations in the US, similarly failed to report to police sexual abuse allegation against coaches and other adult gymnastic leaders.
Historically many public school districts in the US have allowed teachers who have sexually abused students to quietly move to another school without reporting to any state authority. The practice is cynically, but aptly called “passing the trash.” Tragically, the Star found that a similar practice occurs in gymnastics: coaches known to have sexually abused young athletes were permitted to move from gym to gym.
The pattern of abuse in gymnastics is almost identical to that in other youth serving organizations like the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts and public and private schools: young vulnerable girls are first groomed by well-liked popular coaches and mentors, then once he has the child’s complete trust the sexual abuse commences. For further information on how sexual molesters operate, please see my YouTube video on the subject: http://bit.ly/2hKMeSL
According to the Star article, the instances of sexual abuse occur almost every state and continue to happen up until the present: in California, gymnastics coach David Reiakvam was convicted in 2012 for molesting two young teens; Jeffrey Bettman pleaded guilty in 2016 to child pornography charges stemming from him placing cameras in changing rooms in California and Oregon.
Gymnasts who have been sexually abused by their coaches and mentors need to know that it is not their fault and that those adults along with the organizations that sponsor them like USA Gymnastics need to be held responsible in a court of law.