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Protecting the Rights of Coaches and Officials Puts Our Young Athletes at Risk: It’s Time for a Change

February 14, 2018

The judge presiding over the sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar, convicted of abusing hundreds of young athletes in his role as the team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, offered his young victims the opportunity to tell their stories to the court and to the nation. What came out in those statements from dozens of young women, many of them already familiar to people around the world as Olympic medalists, showed how much more needs to be done to protect children from sexual abuse.

Balancing due process for the accused and the rights of victims

Youth sports in the U.S. are a $15 billion industry governed by a multitude of organizations within each sport. For example USA Gymnastics is only one of 47 governing bodies overseeing the training of athletes for international competition in the sport of gymnastics. This fragmentation resulting in different rules and procedures for the hiring and disciplining of coaches and other officials working with young athletes was addressed in 1978 with passage of a federal law, the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. The law might have made it more difficult to track the history of coaches and team officials accused of sexually abusing young athletes.

The 1978 legislation was intended to protect athletes and coaches. It recognized the right of an athlete to be allowed to compete, but it also imposed protected coaches and team officials from being terminated without due process, including the right to a hearing. The Nassar investigation revealed that complaints and accusations of sexual abuse were known to officials at the governing bodies, but police or other law enforcement agencies were not notified. When accusations against individuals were taken directly to law enforcement agencies and criminal convictions obtained, the organizations did not remove the offenders as coaches.

Keeping complaints “in house” protects the guilty

The #MeToo movement has brought attention to how a nondisclosure agreement or an arbitration clause can be used to prevent public disclosure of sexual abuse and misconduct complaints even when organizations reach financial settlements with victims. One Olympic gymnast has filed a lawsuit against the governing organizations and the university for which Nassar worked claiming she was forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement in order to receive a financial settlement for the years of sexual abuse by Nassar that began when she was 13 years old.

Nondisclosure agreements, mediation and arbitration proceedings, and privately conducted investigations by organizations into complaints of sexual misconduct and abuse prevent the public and other institutions and organizations from hearing about the allegations. The failure under the guise of due process to make allegations and affirmative findings of child abuse public allows abusers released by one organization to easily find another one at which to work.

Making organizations report abuse complaints

Federal legislation has been proposed to force governing bodies to report to law enforcement agencies allegations of sexual abuse. It is shocking that the athletic organizations entrusted by parents with looking out for the welfare and well-being of their children are not legally required to report allegations sexual abuse by a coach or other team official.

Another aspect of the proposed legislation is a procedure already followed in many medical practices. It would prohibit adults working with young athletes from being alone with them and require either a parent or guardian be present at all times.

Contact us

If you or a loved one has fallen victim to sexual abuse, you want an experienced and compassionate attorney in whom you can trust. The dedicated attorneys at The Cifarelli Law Firm, LLP, have been aggressively pursuing justice for victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse for more than 25 years. Our knowledge of the law and commitment to the rights of victims has led to our development of innovative strategies to obtain maximum compensation for our clients. Contact us today by calling (949) 502-8600 or use the form on our website to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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