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New Legislation To Outlaw Failing To Report Sexual Abuse In Olympic Sports


President Trump is expected to sign legislation this week that makes it a crime to fail to report sexual assault in Olympic sports. That is one result of the Larry Nassar scandal. He's the doctor who abused hundreds of young athletes. Alexandra Starr reports.

ALEXANDRA STARR, BYLINE: Senator Dianne Feinstein met with nine of Larry Nassar's victims last year. They made an impression.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I've never really seen those - the expressions that I saw that day.

STARR: Some were former Olympic gymnasts. Others had played on Michigan State University's softball team. Nassar worked at the university and for USA Gymnastics. Both organizations were slow to act when allegations surfaced.

FEINSTEIN: That cannot continue to happen.

STARR: So the senator sponsored the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act before it passed both houses of Congress late last month. Many children training in sports clubs didn't have the same protections that covered most student athletes. Now, with this law, failure to report suspected sexual abuse in clubs affiliated with Olympic sports is a federal crime.

FEINSTEIN: This really puts the country on alert with respect to amateur athletics that sexual abuse has to be reported within 24 hours.

STARR: The new law authorizes an independent entity to investigate sexual abuse in Olympic sports. It was created by the U.S. Olympic Committee last year. It's called U.S. SafeSport (ph), and Shellie Pfohl is its president and CEO.

SHELLIE PFOHL: Our aspiration is to really promote a culture where athlete well-being comes first.

STARR: Pfohl says education is a big issue. That's why the center provides online training.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Training covers several topics related to abuse and misconduct.

STARR: And it investigates instances of sexual misconduct. Pfohl says they currently have over 100 cases under review. That doesn't include Dr. Nassar because he was already being investigated when the center opened. Right now the vast majority of SafeSport's budget comes from the U.S. Olympic Committee and sports governing bodies, like USA Gymnastics and USA Swimming. Pfohl wants that to change.

PFOHL: We don't want all of our funding to come from one source because that limits our independence.

STARR: While the bill that just passed doesn't provide government funding, it does give the center immunity from being sued for libel as it conducts investigations. Nancy Hogshead-Makar is a former gold medalist in swimming and head of the advocacy group Champion Women. She hopes SafeSport will be a tough regulator.

NANCY HOGSHEAD-MAKAR: Whether or not SafeSport has - is going to have the backbone to be able to get these molesters out just remains to be seen.

STARR: The bill will not only protect Olympic-level athletes. About 8 million children are on teams that are under the U.S. Olympic Committee umbrella. A lot of local soccer clubs, for example, are members of USA soccer. Those clubs will be covered by the legislation.

HOGSHEAD-MAKAR: This really affects just a lot of people out there. The parents and the volunteers and the officials and the coaches and the athletes - everybody is going to be a mandatory reporter.

STARR: That means that if any of those people suspect abuse and do not report it, they could be sentenced to a year in prison.

For NPR News, I'm Alexandra Starr.

(SOUNDBITE OF CANYONS OF STATIC'S "DRIFT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alexandra Starr
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