WASHINGTON – Congress has responded to the sex abuse scandal involving sports doctor Larry Nassar by sending President Donald Trump legislation that requires governing bodies for amateur athletics to swiftly report claims of abuse to law enforcement.
The Senate approved the bipartisan bill by voice vote on Tuesday, a day after the measure cleared the House by an overwhelming margin.
“Horrific sexual abuse and tepid responses from organizations that exist to support the careers of U.S. Olympic athletes are nothing short of a betrayal,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., one of the bill’s backers.
Nassar worked at Michigan State University and for USA Gymnastics, the governing body that also trains Olympians. He was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison last week at the end of an extraordinary seven-day hearing at which more than 150 women and girls said he had molested them under the guise of medical treatment.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the bill’s main sponsor, said the safeguards mandated by the bill are only possible “because of the incredibly courageous women who decided to come forward, share their pain and do all they could to make sure this dark chapter is never repeated.”
Former gymnast Jeanette Antolin, who was a member of the U.S. national team in the late 1990s when she went to Nassar for treatment, said at a press conference earlier Tuesday that the legislation is an important step forward.
But Antolin said the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State all need to be investigated thoroughly to determine how “such heinous crimes were allowed to go under the radar” for so long.
“Time’s up,” Antolin said, a nod toward the movement against sexual abuse and harassment. “Every minute that goes by with unanswered questions, more innocent children can be harmed.”
Feinstein recalled meeting met last year with several of the gymnasts alleging sexual abuse, including Antolin.
“The minute I walked into the room, I knew something was different and something was very wrong,” she said Tuesday. “The meeting made clear that USA Gymnastics was fostering a culture that put money and medals first, far ahead of the safety and well-being of athletes.”
The Senate first passed the legislation in November, well before Nassar’s sentencing. But the House made a change to the legislation, which required the Senate to pass it again. Thune said the House removed funding for the U.S. Center for Safe Sport, an independent body created last year by the U.S. Olympic Committee to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct. But he said “we’ll get that addressed in another way.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the Judiciary Committee chairman, said after Trump signs the bill into law he will “do the oversight that’s necessary” to ensure its requirements are properly followed.
A patchwork of state laws on reporting suspected sex abuse made it necessary to enact a uniform national standard that would apply to amateur sports groups such as USA Gymnastics as well as to other sports organizations that participate in interstate and international travel, according to the bill’s backers. The failure to report a sexual abuse allegation could lead to up to one year in prison.
The legislation also extends the statute of limitations for victims to sue alleged perpetrators, recognizing that children sometimes don’t realize they were abused until years later. The statute of limitations was extended to age 28 or up to 10 years after the reasonable discovery of the violation, whichever is later.
The legislation also requires the governing bodies for amateur athletes to put in place “reasonable procedures” to limit one-on-one interactions between minors and adults, except in emergencies.
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