U.S. gymnasts give emotional testimony about sexual abuse
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Retired star gymnasts testified before Congress on Tuesday that they were sexually abused by USA Gymnastics officials.
Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, and three-time national champion rhythmic gymnast Jessica Howard recounted their experiences before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“USA Gymnastics failed its most basic responsibility to protect the athletes under its care,” Dantzscher said through tears.
Dominique Moceanu, a 1996 gold medalist, described a “culture of fear, intimidation and humiliation, established by Bela and Martha Karolyi,” the legendary coaches who are named in a civil lawsuit for physical abuse.
U.S. Olympic Committee official Rick Adams and Stafford County (Va.) Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen also testified. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee chairman, criticized USA Gymnastics for declining to testify.
The hearing concerns a bill that could reshape sex-abuse reporting guidelines in Olympic sports. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is co-sponsoring a bill that calls on organizations overseeing Olympic sports to immediately report sex-abuse allegations to law enforcement or child-welfare authorities.
The bill and proposed changes to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act come in the aftermath of the sex abuse scandal that led to the resignation of USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny.
Dantzscher and Howard told the committee of their abuses by Dr. Larry Nassar, who is in prison in Michigan and faces charges in the state and federal systems.
“They failed to take action against coaches, trainers and other adults who abused children,” Dantzscher said. “And they allowed Dr. Nassar to abuse young women and girls for more than 20 years.”
Howard said, “It has become glaringly obvious that USA Gymnastics has not done nearly enough to protect athletes from any form of abuse.”
Moceanu, now an advocate, spoke about her emotional and verbal abuse during her time with USA Gymnastics. She said there is an “urgent need” to change the culture of the organization.
Feinstein, who has been critical of USA Gymnastics’ handling of the sex-abuse scandal, said she met two months ago with former gymnasts who were abused as teenagers and carried the trauma with them as adults. Dantzscher and Howard said they didn’t realize until last year that Nassar had abused them.
As part of the proposed legislation, governing bodies under the USOC umbrella would be required to report allegations of sexual abuse to law enforcement and train employees on how to handle situations. The statute of limitations for victims to sue their abusers would also be extended.
“Young athletes should not have to fear victimization from coaches doctors and other officials,” Feinstein said at a news conference after the hearing.
Retired gymnast Jeanette Antolin also said at the news conference she was sexually abused by her first coach and praised the proposed legislation, saying “for so long we felt like we had no voice.”
Mattie Larson, a 2010 World Championships team member, also attended the news conference but did not speak.
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