It is horrifying enough that more than 100 women and girls may have been abused by a single USA Gymnastics doctor. It is more horrifying still that Larry Nassar was likely one among many. The widespread abuse of female athletes at USA Gymnastics came into the spotlight last summer. Now, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has introduced a bill to close some of the loopholes that let it happen.
For at least a decade, Nassar, the subject of congressional testimony last month from high-profile gymnasts, passed off the assaults as treatment for muscular maladies. (He has denied any wrongdoing.)
Nassar is just the latest in a line of USA Gymnastics staff who used their authority to abuse. The Indianapolis Star reported in August that USA Gymnastics had complaint files on 54 coaches from 1996 to 2006 who may have assaulted gymnasts as young as 10. Since then, many more women have come forth with their stories. USA Swimming and USA Taekwondo have also been the subject of recent lawsuits.
Organizations like these have failed to forward abuse complaints to law enforcement in part because they have no federal duty to do so. Feinstein’s bill would change that by establishing a nationwide reporting rule for amateur athletic governing bodies. It would also require the bodies to conduct stricter oversight of affiliate facilities, create easy mechanisms for making abuse complaints and track coaches who are the subject of complaints to keep them from moving to new states – and new athletes – when they get caught.
It will take more than top-down actions from the Senate to reverse a culture that failed so many for so long, but at least Feinstein’s bill would write responsibility into law.