Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 June 2019

Congress passes bill stemming from sexual abuse of athletes

Legislation requires governing bodies for amateur athletics to promptly report claims

Larry Nassar sits during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Michigan. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Larry Nassar sits during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Michigan. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

The US Congress followed up on the sex abuse scandal involving sports doctor Larry Nassar by passing legislation on Monday that requires governing bodies for amateur athletics to promptly report abuse claims to law enforcement.

Nassar was sentenced last week to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing more than 150 women and girls over 25 years.

The sentencing sparked calls from lawmakers to complete action on legislation that had received widespread support in both chambers of Congress. The House of Representatives agreed to take up the Senate version of the bill to speed up its passage. The bill passed by a vote of 406-3 and went to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Supporters of the bill, sponsored by senator Dianne Feinstein, a Californian Democrat, said a patchwork of state laws on reporting suspected sex abuse made it necessary to enact a uniform national standard that would apply to amateur sports groups such as USA Gymnastics as well as to other sports organisations that participate in interstate and international travel. The failure to report a sexual abuse allegation could lead to up to one year in prison.

Lawmakers who spoke in favour of the bill said that Nassar’s victims were failed by the people who were supposed to protect them.

“How a serial predator like Dr Nassar could have preyed on so many young girls for a long time in such a flagrant fashion is appalling,” said representative Ted Poe, a Republican from Texas.

During the House debate on the bill, Mr Poe read from the testimony that some of the gymnasts delivered at last week’s sentencing hearing and entered the statements for publication in the congressional record. High-profile Olympians who delivered statements included six-time medalist Aly Raisman, 2011 world champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber and two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney.

“All they wanted to do was to make us proud. All they wanted to do was show the strength of women and the resolve of women,” said representaive Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas.

The legislation also extends the statute of limitations for victims to sue alleged perpetrators, recognising that children sometimes do not realise they were abused until years later. The statute of limitations was extended to age 28 or up to 10 years after the reasonable discovery of the violation, whichever is later.

The legislation also requires the governing bodies for amateur athletes to put in place “reasonable procedures” to limit one-on-one interactions between minors and adults, except in emergencies.

The US Centre for Safe Sport was created by the US Olympic Committee in March 2017 as a wholly independent body to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct in 47 Olympic governing bodies. The legislation builds on that effort by requiring the organisation to maintain an office that would develop training and monitoring practices to prevent the abuse of athletes.

Each of the governing bodies for Olympic athletes, such as USA Gymnastics and USA Swimming, will work with the centre to develop procedures for accepting complaints and reporting them to law enforcement.

Ms Feinstein met last year with some of the gymnasts alleging sexual abuse.

“Today is their day, and they should be proud that their decision to speak out has resulted in changes that will prevent the abuse of future generations of athletes,” she said.

Updated: January 30, 2018 09:36 AM