Officials at USA Gymnastics failed to report to the police incidents of sexual abuse by its coaches, leading to the abuse of at least 14 more underage gymnasts, an investigation by the Indianapolis Star found.
According to the report, which was published on Thursday, August 4, the organization, which acts as the sport’s national governing body, hid at least four incidents of suspected abuse from police over the years.
One particularly dramatic case involved a detailed complaint that USA Gymnastics reportedly received in 2011 about 2010 national Women’s Coach of the Year, Marvin Sharp, who was accused of inappropriately touching minors. According to the Indianapolis Star, the organization did not report Sharp to police at the time, despite being warned that he shouldn’t be allowed around children.
The organization instead reported Sharp four years later, after it was confronted with another disturbing allegation, this time involving Sharp touching a gymnast’s vagina, trimming her pubic hair and taking explicit photos of her from the time she was 12 years old, according to the report. Sharp was sentenced to prison last fall, but killed himself in his jail cell shortly afterward.
The three other incidents had similar story lines involving coaches who had thick files of complaints brought against them before they were turned in to the authorities.
The Indianapolis Star reports that in 2013, two former USA Gymnastics officials admitted under oath that it was the organization’s policies to dismiss sexual abuse allegations unless they came directly from a victim or a victim’s parents.
“USAG failed at this,” Lisa Ganser, a parent of one victim, told the paper. “USA Gymnastics had enough information, I think, to have done something about this. It didn’t have to happen to my daughter, and it didn’t have to happen to other little girls.”
In response to the accusations, Steve Penny, the president of USA Gymnastics, said in a statement on its website: “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 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,” Penny continued. “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.”
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