The Silent Shame Part 4: Changing the Law to Protect the Victim, not the Abuser

dianne-feinstein
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) thinks the law that governs Olympic sports organizations in America leaves child athletes at risk of abuse. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The recent revelations of decades of child sexual abuse within USA Gymnastics has created a firestorm. The spotlight has given increased awareness to the fact that “six Olympic sport governing bodies have been beset over the years by allegations of mishandled complaints of abuse,” according to the Washington Post.

In other words, cases of sexual abuse by members associated with such organizations as USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming, USA Taekwando and U.S. Speedskating have been essentially hushed up over the years.

See this link for the first part of my posts on sexual abuse in USA Gymnastics.

And now the US Government is getting involved, and their sights are on the United States Olympics Committee (USOC). On February 21, 2017, Senator Diane Feinstein of California announced that she wants her colleagues to agree on an amendment to a federal law that governs Olympic sports organizations – The Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. This law was passed in 1978 in order to have a single governing body (USOC) manage the various individual national sports organizations, as well as assist in the process of selecting Olympic team members.

But what has been recently understood is that when suspicions of abuse emerge, the USOC’s policy has been one of passivity and reactivity, and that language in the Ted Stevens Act“has been interpreted by lawyers to afford coaches suspected of sexual abuse more rights than they would have if they worked in other industries.”

The Ted Stevens Act requires an Olympic governing body give fair notice, due process and a hearing to any member athlete, coach, or official it wants to ban; requirements that have sometimes prevented governing bodies from banning coaches suspected of abuse. Other youth-serving organizations, such as the Boy Scouts of America, have policies requiring swift actions when abuse is suspected, always erring in favor of protecting children from harm.

Senator Feinstein’s objective is to re-write the law so that any governing body affiliated with an Olympic governing organization must report cases of sexual abuse immediately to law enforcement authorities, as well as prevent the common practice of rotating a suspected child abuser from one club to another without any official record.

On March 2, US senators put considerably more pressure on the chief executive of the USOC, Scott Blackmun, to provide greater detail about how the USOC has handled these allegations of sexual abuse. In a letter from Senator John Thune of South Dakota and Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas to Blackmun, they say they have “serious concerns about the extent to which the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is meeting its mandate to protect the health and safety of athletes.”