INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Just one day before the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics, some hefty allegations have surfaced against the USA Gymnastics organization, headquartered in Indianapolis.
An IndyStar investigation has revealed years of sexual abuse allegations made against USA Gymnastics coaches went unreported and were never once investigated by the USA Gymnastics administration.
“We’d been reporting extensively, locally here, about failures to report child sexual abuse in schools, both public and private, and in daycares,” said Marisa Kwiatkowski, an Investigative Reporter witth the IndyStar.
That’s when Kwiatkowski got a tip that USA Gymnastics had years of sexual abuse allegations against their coaches that were never reported to authorities.
“You had coaches, gym owners, and others reporting to USA Gymnastics concerns that they had about coaches that we looked in to,” she said.
The more she and her team of reporters dug, speaking to victims and families in nearly every corner of the country, a disturbing picture began to emerge.
“It was at that point we realized this is not just one case, one lawsuit, one coach, that it was a policy that was happening and it was happening over a number of years, over a number of coaches,” said Kwiatkowski.
USA Gymnastics policy stipulates that allegations are not reported or investigated unless they are filed by the victim, or the victim’s family. An allegation otherwise, they claim, is considered hearsay.
“We found out USA Gymnastics had filed complaint files on 54 coaches over a ten year period,” said Kwiatkowski.
“All of that is irrelevant because in Indiana, every adult is a mandatory reporter,” said Indianapolis criminal attorney, Jon Little.
IndyStar investigated in depth, four different coaches, all with histories of allegations that were never reported. The four men were only investigated after families of later victims came forward.
“A public school’s principal or superintendent could clean this whole mess up in two weeks. A public school would suspend these guys, have an investigation and do something,” said Little.
USA Gymnastics' President, Steve Penny released this statement regarding the IndyStar investigation:
“Addressing issues of sexual misconduct has been important to USA Gymnastics for many years, and the organization is committed to promoting a safe environment for its athletes. We find it appalling that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in this manner, and recognize the effect this behavior can have on a person’s life. USA Gymnastics has been proactive in helping to educate the gymnastics community over the years, and will continue to take every punitive action available within our jurisdiction, and cooperate fully with law enforcement.
“USA Gymnastics believes it has a duty to report to law enforcement whenever circumstances warrant, as was the case when I initiated the report of Marvin Sharp. USA Gymnastics has been assured by law enforcement that it went above and beyond its legal obligations to report on this matter. USA Gymnastics has, in the strongest terms, encouraged anyone who believes abuse has occurred to contact law enforcement and frequently works with law enforcement on these matters.
“USA Gymnastics seeks first-hand knowledge whenever allegations of abuse arise as the most reliable source to take action and as outlined in its bylaws and policies. The organization has continually reviewed its best practices on how it addresses these issues and has been among the first to initiate new policies and procedures including publishing a list of banned coaches and instituting national background checks.
“We remain committed to this effort and have been working closely with the U.S. Olympic Committee to help keep athletes safe in all sports.
“With the Judge considering whether to dismiss the pending lawsuit in Georgia, there are limits on what the organization can say publicly during litigation. Nonetheless, USA Gymnastics provided the Indianapolis Star with substantial information on its policies and procedures to demonstrate the organization's commitment to the safety of its athletes within the scope of its jurisdiction and governance structure. We feel the Star left out significant facts that would have painted a more accurate picture of our efforts.”