Congress Passes Bill To Protect Young Athletes Following Nassar Sentencing
The House passed a bill on Monday night that protects amateur athletes from sexual abuse by enforcing mandatory reporting regulations and extending the statute of limitations for child victims.
The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), came up for a vote one week after Larry Nassar was sentenced in what was the largest sexual abuse scandal in sports history. Congress agreed to use the Senate’s version of the bill to speed up its passage; it passed with a vote of 406-3. It just needs President Donald Trump’s signature to be made into law.
Nassar was sentencing to 40 years to 175 years in prison on seven counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree. The former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor has been accused of sexually abusing more than 150 young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.
“As the Nassar sentencing comes to a close and the Olympic games quickly approach, we are reminded of the importance of protecting the safety and well-being of all of our athletes,” Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) said.
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(L-R) Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) join former champion gymnasts Jeanette Antolin, Dominique Moceanu, Jamie Dantzscher and Mattie Larson for a news conference on January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC.
The bill has a three-pronged approach to protecting athletes and regulating governing bodies of amateur athletics.
First, it requires coaches, trainers and others to report any sexual abuse allegation to the police within a 24-hour period. Several women said they reported Nassar to MSU representatives and others as early as 1997, but Nassar’s abuse was allowed to continue because no one adhered to mandatory reporting regulations.
Secondly, the legislation extends the statute of limitations to up to 10 years after a victim realizes he or she was abused. It’s not uncommon in child sexual abuse cases for survivors to have a delayed realization of the abuse they endured. Many of Nassar’s victims did not realize they had been abused until other women came forward with their stories.
Lastly, the bill limits athletes under the age of 18 from being alone with an adult who isn’t their parent. Nassar often abused young girls while he was alone with them during medical visits, and many survivors said the isolation of elite gymnasts allowed the abuse to continue.
“How a serial predator like Dr. Nassar could have preyed on so many young girls for a long time in such a flagrant fashion is appalling,” Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said during a House debate of the bill.
Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) addressed several athletes who helped create the bill, including Mattie Larson, Jamie Dantzscher and Jeanette Antolin, during a news conference on Tuesday.
“It may be too late to protect these brave young women. But now you are here doing the protecting. You thought you’d be champion of the Olympics, but you are champions of human rights,” she said.
Antolin told HuffPost that the bill is meant to protect all amateur athletes, not just gymnasts.
“[This bill] goes across all amateur sports, not just gymnastics, not just swimming ― it’s all amateur sports to protect all kids,” she said. “Because all kids should be able to go and do sports without having to worry about adult predators.”
Lawmakers from both parties have also called for an investigation into USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“The abhorrent abuses associated with this case are outrageous, and raise serious concerns about your organization’s ability to oversee your sport and protect your athletes from abuse and mistreatment,” multiple members of Congress wrote in a letter to USA Gymnastics.
Several officials at USA Gymnastics, MSU and the U.S. Olympic committee have resigned in the face of harsh criticism. MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon resigned last week. The entire USA Gymnastics board resigned, and former Olympic coach John Geddert retired. The NCAA also opened an investigation into how MSU handled the Nassar case.
Nassar is currently serving 60 years in prison on child pornography charges and awaits sentencing on three other charges of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree.
Travis Waldron contributed reporting.
This article has been updated with quotes from Frankel and Antolin.