The Silent Shame Part 2: Why Would / How Could Leaders of USA Gymnastics Stay Silent in the Face of Sexual Abuse Allegations?


Thanks to The Indianapolis Star, we now know that leaders in USA Gymnastics, the governing body for gymnastics in America, were aware of coaches who sexually abused female gymnasts over the past two decades at least, many of whom were under-aged. We also know that USA Gymnastics did little to prevent further abuse unless a parent or the police pushed them to act.

According to The Indianapolis Star, USA Gymnastics have detailed and sometimes voluminous documentation on coaches accused of sexual abuse, but those documents have not yet been disclosed by USA Gymnastics. We know about these cases today primarily because the journalists of the Indy Star went through police and court records, uncovering details of the cases. They also learned about a so-called policy that provided the rationale for USA Gymnastics officials not to take any action despite knowledge of the abuse.

Current USA Gymnastics president, Steve Penny, in a court deposition said “to the best of my knowledge, there’s no duty to report if you are…if you are a third party to some allegation.” Penny’s predecessor, Robert Colarossi, stated that a reason not to report abuse to the police was “concern about potential damage to a coach’s reputation if an allegation proved false,” and that he “inherited an executive policy of dismissing complaints as ‘hearsay’ unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent – a policy that experts said could deter people from reporting abuse. It’s not clear exactly when that policy was created or by whom.”


The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence is a nonprofit organization that focuses on scientifically research-based explanations for mental health issues. In one of their articles, entitled “Eight Common Myths About Child Sexual Abuse“, the Leadership Council gives insight into why many of us allow sexual abuse to continue.

Few people are aware of the true state of the science on child abuse. Instead, most people’s beliefs have been shaped by common misconceptions and popular myths about this hidden crime. Societal acceptance of these myths assists sex offenders by silencing victims and encouraging public denial about the true nature of sexual assaults against children. The Leadership Council prepared this analysis because we believe that society as a whole benefits when the public has access to accurate information regarding child abuse and other forms of interpersonal violence.

Here is the list of myths:

  • Myth 1:  Normal-appearing, well educated, middle-class people don’t molest children.
  • Myth 2:  People are too quick to believe an abuser is guilty, even if there is no supporting evidence.
  • Myth 3:  Child molesters molest indiscriminately.
  • Myth 4:  Children who are being abused would immediately tell their parents.
  • Myth 5:  Children who are being abused will show physical evidence of abuse.
  • Myth 6:  Hundreds of innocent men and women have been falsely accused and sent to prison for molesting children.
  • Myth 7:  If asked about abuse, children tend to exaggerate and are prone to making false accusations.
  • Myth 8:  By using repeated interviews, therapists or police can easily implant false memories and cause false accusations among children of any age.

I could only presume, but if we consider the leaders of USA Gymnastics to be of normal mental health, then they too accept many of the myths above as fact. In many cases, I’m sure they took the word of the coach’s over the children.

  • “Where’s the proof?”
  • “These are normal-appearing, well-educated men. Can’t be true.”
  • “If a child was really being abused, she would definitely have told her parents.”
  • “And what would happen if we falsely accused a coach? Oh, the shame.”

Yes. Oh, the shame.


For facts and more myths on child abuse in America, see The National Child Traumatic Stress Network Fact sheet.

The Silent Shame Part 1: USA Gymnastics Ignored Sexual Abuse Allegations

The Silent Shame Part 3: New Sexual Abuse Allegations for USA Gymnastics