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Nationwide, Lawmakers Look to Put Safeguards in Place to Prevent Sexual Assault in Sports

13 Jun, 2018

By: Michael Popke

Steve Penny, former CEO of USA Gymnastics, might have been able to plead the Fifth and walk out of a Senate subcommittee hearing rather than discuss how much he knew about Larry Nassar’s activities, but across the country, accountability is becoming an issue.

In the wake of crimes committed by the man who has since been sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for molesting at least 250 young women and one young man, multiple states are revisiting current laws regarding child sexual abuse.

While Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner last August removed a statute of limitations for child sex abuse crimes, the state is now seeking to include mandatory reporting requirements in youth sports and legal protections for accusers.

“We need to figure out how to hone … in so that the type of conduct is addressed, and it hasn’t been,” Republican State Sen. Jil Tracy told Northern Public Radio.

In Michigan, where Nassar worked, Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign into law a bill that would give childhood sexual abuse victims more time to sue. As the Associated Press reports, “the current cutoff to file a lawsuit in Michigan is generally a minor victim’s 19th birthday, which critics say is out of step with the laws in other states and does not account for how many victims are afraid to report abuse or have suppressed it.”

Snyder also likely will sign legislation giving prosecutors 15 years or until a victim’s 28th birthday to file charges in second- and third-degree sexual conduct cases if the victim was younger than 18. Currently, the deadline is 10 years or the victim’s 21st birthday — whichever is later. As in Illinois, there is no statute of limitations for first-degree sexual misconduct in Michigan.

Michigan Republican State Sen. Rick Jones also hoped to generate support for a measure that would expand the state’s list of mandatory reporters of child abuse to include paid coaches. He cited Nassar victims who said nothing happened when they told coaches of his inappropriate behavior years ago. “I can understand some objection to the volunteers for T-ball,” Jones told the AP. “But when it comes to paid coaches, most of them very highly paid coaches, my goodness. They should report like everybody else.”

Earlier this year, PsychologyToday.com posted an eye-opening article about sexual abuse in youth sports and cited research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicates one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.

Additionally, most victims suffer the abuse at the hands of someone they know, often a trusted adult. “Pedophiles are often drawn to positive youth settings, such as schools, scouting or sports, because such environments bring them into contact with so many potential targets,” the article stated.

“These situations don’t happen on the baseball field, they don’t happen on the ice rink, they don’t happen at football practice. What happens is these volunteers groom the children, they groom the parents, they insert themselves into these activities to earn people’s trust. It’s not necessarily the actual program that’s at fault, it’s parents not being educated in those practices,” Lydia Lerma told recently The Coloradoan.

Lerma’s son is one of the children cited in the case against Andrew Vanderwal, a youth hockey coach in northern Colorado facing allegations of sexually abusing children between the ages of 5 and 10.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport, whose mission is to keep all youth sports participants “free from bullying, hazing, sexual misconduct or any form of emotional or physical abuse,” has been designated by the federal government as the independent national organization “responsible for delivering education and resolving allegations of misconduct with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympics Movements.”

The organization is part of the “Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and SafeSport Authorization Act of 2017,” which took effect Feb. 14, 2018. The organization offers resources to parents and sports clubs to prevent sexual abuse — including an 82-page “Parent Toolkit.”

“Once we receive a report, our investigators will begin the process,” Katie Hannah, director of education and outreach at the U.S. Center for SafeSport, told WREX-TV in Rockford, Ill. “We have people on our team who are dedicated to different witnesses, talking to the person who notified them of that report and getting that process started.”

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