|A 12-year-old gymnast molested by an Olympic coach during "therapy" sessions. Children as young as 6 secretly photographed nude by coaches. Coaches who slipped a finger inside girls' leotards. |
A coach having almost daily sex with a 14-year-old at one of the country's most prestigious gyms. No one knows exactly how many children have been sexually exploited in America's gyms over the past 20 years. But an IndyStar-USA TODAY Network review of hundreds of police files and court cases across the country provides for the first time a measure of just how pervasive the problem is.
At least 368 gymnasts have alleged some form of sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches, gym owners and other adults working in gymnastics. That's a rate of one every 20 days. And it's likely an undercount.
IndyStar previously reported that top officials at USA Gymnastics, one of the nation's most prominent Olympic organizations, failed to alert police to many allegations of sexual abuse that occurred on their watch and stashed complaints in files that have been kept secret. But the problem is far worse. A nine-month investigation found that predatory coaches were allowed to move from gym to gym, undetected by a lax system of oversight, or dangerously passed on by USA Gymnastics-certified gyms.
USA Gymnastics calls itself a leader in child safety. In a statement responding to IndyStar's questions, it said: "Nothing is more important to USA Gymnastics, the Board of Directors and CEO Steve Penny than protecting athletes, which requires sustained vigilance by everyone — coaches, athletes, parents, administrators and officials. We are saddened when any athlete has been harmed in the course of his or her gymnastics career."
The organization noted several initiatives aimed at creating a safer environment, including the use of criminal background checks for coaches, the practice of publishing the names of coaches banned from its competitions, and programs that provide educational materials to member gyms. In its statement to IndyStar, USA Gymnastics said it is constantly striving to improve.
In the wake of IndyStar's August investigation, USA Gymnastics hired a former prosecutor to evaluate its bylaws and offer advice on how to strengthen its policies. It also established a policy review panel on its board of directors.
"USA Gymnastics is proud of the work it has done to address and guard against child sexual abuse," the organization said in materials provided to IndyStar.
USA Gymnastics also said it's playing a central role in developing a U.S. Center for SafeSport to oversee education programs and investigate and adjudicate claims of sexual misconduct for all U.S. Olympic Committee governing bodies.
USA Gymnastics has touted its many successes, including years of expansion and recent domination by Team USA at the Olympics. But administrators in the Indianapolis-based organization have declined numerous interview requests from IndyStar.
Penny, who has been president since 2005, declined to be interviewed for this and other stories. Neither the chairman of USA Gymnastics' board, Paul Parilla, nor board members responded to interview requests.
During IndyStar's investigation, USA Gymnastics agreed to one interview with its lawyer and public relations chief. Otherwise, officials have accepted only written questions and responded with often incomplete written replies.
Many questions have gone unanswered. USA Gymnastics and Penny have taken other steps to keep details of abuse cases secret. The organization as well as individual member gyms have entered confidentiality agreements as part of settlements in negligence cases with gymnasts claiming abuse.
And in court, USA Gymnastics has fought the release of documents that would show how Penny and other top officials have dealt with molestation allegations.
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