Bill to Protect Athletes from Sexual Abuse Passes Senate Waits for House

On Tuesday, November 14, the Senate passed S 534, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017.  The legislation, which has had the active support of CWLA, was originally introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to address reports of sexual abuse of Olympic athletes. After passage Senator Feinstein said, “Sexual abuse is one of the most heinous crimes and our legislation will finally ensure that adults who are responsible for the safety of millions of young athletes will be held accountable for preventing abuse and reporting any allegation of abuse.” CWLA has issued a letter urging action by the House.

The legislation, although introduced much earlier this year, is moving against a backdrop of new public attention to child sexual abuse with renewed reports of sexual abuse at Olympic facilities by officials most recently on CBS news program 60 Minutes on Sunday, November 12 and against the backdrop of the ongoing allegations of child sexual abuse by a Senate candidate in Alabama.

As if to punctuate the recent public discussion, Feinstein went on to say that “Passage of our legislation wouldn’t have been possible without the courage of women who came forward to say, ‘enough is enough.’

The bipartisan legislation would create new responsibilities within these Olympic training facilities through greater accountability of the national governing body that oversees the development, training and participation of Olympic athletes.  To this point past bad publicity has resulted in some promises of action and some training.  This legislation would mandate it.  The legislation would require certain child abuse reporting responsibilities for personnel and protections for athletes, and legal action for past victims of child abuse.  Under the legislation funds are authorized for the U.S. Center for Safe Sport to ensure that Olympic athletes can report allegations of abuse to an independent and non-conflicted entity. It also extends the statute of limitations for victims to report instance of sexual abuse.

Earlier this year several news outlets reported instances of sexual abuse by the Women’s Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar.  More accusations are still surfacing and Nassar is currently in jail awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to three federal child pornography charges in July 2017. He faces 22 state charges in Michigan (where he had been based) and has been sued by more than 130 women in civil lawsuits filed by gymnasts and other athletes he treated while working with USA Gymnastics and while at Michigan State University.

The Senate bill also has the cosponsorship of Senator Thune (R-SD), Senator Nelson (D-FL), Senator Collins (R-ME), Senator Donnelly (R-IN) and Senator Young (R-IN).  It now goes on to the House where there has been similar legislation.  There has been some ongoing discussions across the two Houses to find common ground and the legislation has been modified as a result.  It is now hoped the House will approve this Senate bill by voice vote when they get back.

 

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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