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When USA Gymnastics Turned a Blind Eye to Sexual Abuse

With the summer Olympics in full swing, three reporters at the Indianapolis Star newspaper have been investigating painful secrets kept by some of the nation’s young gymnasts-in-training.

For this ProPublica Podcast, I talked with Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia and Tim Evans about their incredible report on sexual misconduct by coaches affiliated with USA Gymnastics, the nonprofit responsible for developing the United States’ gymnastics team for the Olympics and training thousands more children and young adults.What the reporters discovered was that the organization had policies on reporting sexual abuse that were likely to discourage people from speaking up.

© McEntire

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

On USA Gymastics’ policy of dismissing allegations of sexual abuse as hearsay unless they came directly from a victim or a victim’s parents:

Kwiatkowski: “[W]hat legal and child welfare experts told us is that this policy flies in the face of best practice because often the victim doesn't want to put that in writing or go straight to authorities. They may tell a friend, or a trusted adult, or someone like that, but actually putting it in writing and sending it to the organization in some ways, experts told us, is a deterrent to reporting.”

On USA Gymnastics’ list of problem coaches:

Alesia: “USA Gymnastics started with, they call, a list of permanently ineligible members. We've just been calling it the banned coaches list. There are currently 107 people in that list, and it goes back to the 1990s. One of the things we did is we looked at this list as it was published in two USA Gymnastics publications that are available online going back to the '70s, and we plotted when some of these coaches started showing up on the list compared to when they were convicted. We found in numerous situations there were long lapses of time between when a person was convicted and when they showed up on this banned coaches list.”

On a family’s horror at realizing that their child was not a coach’s first victim:

Evans: “[O]ne of the things that stood out the most to me was the comment that he could've been stopped long before he got to our town. That's kind of at the heart of it, and it's what we've seen looking at many other coaches, where they bounce from gym to gym. People either don't report them, or they get in trouble, and they quietly leave town and go to another a gym.”

Listen to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher. For more, read the Indianapolis Star's series "Out of Balance."

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