Sexual abuse and gymnastics: Tragedy fuels new law

Sexual abuse cases in gymnastics led to significant legal changes.

Arguably, the most notable sexual abuse case involving gymnastics in recent history is the case of Larry Nassar. Nassar was a physician who treated athletes for Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics. Gymnasts recently spoke out, accusing Nassar of sexually abusing young women who went through gymnastics training.

Although well known, his case is one of many. Another example involves a Pennsylvania coach. The United States Center for SafeSport, an organization tasked with policing abuse in Olympic sports, has barred the gymnastic coach from contact with minors while it investigates a claim of misconduct. The details of the claim are not yet public, but the bylaw used to support the investigation refers to sexual misconduct.

Remedies for victims, cases provide precedent

In the Nassar case, victims shared their stories through impact statements. The final victim sharing an impact statement concluded with a question. "How much is a little girl worth?" The question pushed those responsible for sentencing to keep prospective when determining a proper punishment.

Nassar plead guilty to multiple charges of sexual assault and child pornography. Michigan State University agreed to pay victims $500 million.

The case garnered national attention. The public took notice and voiced frustration. Lawmakers listened and pushed for change. One push was successful. In the wake of this tragedy, lawmakers drafted and passed the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act of 2017. The bill resulted in three key changes:

  • Increased accountability. The bill amends a previous law, the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990, to extend the duty of those who are required to report child abuse to those who interact with minor or amateur sports organizations recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Those who are now covered and do not meet this duty are now subject to criminal penalties.
  • More time. The new law also extends the amount of time a victim has to bring a case against their abuser. The statute of limitations for a minor to bring a civil suit against an abuser was increased from 3 years from the date the victim turns 18 to 10 years.
  • Greater awareness. The bill also calls on national governing bodies to provide education to prevent abuse of minor or amateur athletes and requires national governing bodies to develop and enforce policies to prevent, report and respond to such abuse.

These changes highlight the fact that remedies are available for victims of sexual abuse. A financial award through a civil claim can provide justice, holding those associated with the abuse accountable and providing funds to cover medical bills and afford therapy. It can provide financial support for those who were unable to work due to the trauma experienced from the abuse. It also helps the community as a large financial award serves as encouragement for institutions to take steps to better ensure their pupils are safe from similar instances of abuse.

It is important to note that these remedies are often time barred. As a result, it is imperative for victims to reach out as soon as they are able to discuss their options with a legal professional experienced in this niche area of the law.