In the News
Source: USA Today
Feb 07 2018
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators is pushing for a special congressional investigation into how the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics may have enabled team doctor Larry Nassar to sexually abuse gymnasts over decades.
At least one congressional committee is already expected to hold a hearing on how those bodies allowed the abuse to happen.
But Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said it's better for Congress to create a temporary panel focused solely on the issue. It's also important, she said at a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday, that at least half of the senators on the panel be women.
"Sexual abuse is an issue I take very personally," Sen. Joni Ernst, the Iowa Republican leading the charge with Shaheen for the panel, said in reference to having worked at a women's crisis shelter while in college.
The senators, part of a group of 18 sponsoring a resolution to create the special panel, said their party leaders have not yet signed off on the idea. But Shaheen said that's likely because the leaders have been dealing with other issues, including negotiations over funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year.
"I haven't heard any hesitation," she said. "As soon as we get past of these other negotiations around government funding, then hopefully we can get an answer as quickly as possible."
Nassar has been sentenced to decades in prison for sexual assault. He admitted penetrating females with ungloved hands when they visited him for various injuries. The number of victims who have come forward exceeds 250, going back decades.
Nassar’s abuses were exposed in 2016 as part of a wide-ranging Indianapolis Star investigation of USA Gymnastics. The Star, as part of the USA TODAY Network, uncovered widespread sexual abuse of gymnasts by coaches and others, and failures to alert authorities to abuses, and prompted federal legislation requiring Olympic organizations to report all allegations of abuse, as well as the ouster of USA Gymnastics’ president and board.
The president of Michigan State University, where Nassar worked, also resigned.
"It is shocking to me that an institution that I love and respect, and people in it, let girls down over and over again," said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, an alum of Michigan State who is among the senators calling for a special investigation. "That's why it's so important that we shine the light of day on this."
Stabenow recounted that the father of some of Nassar's victims had to be restrained in a Michigan courtroom after asking for "five minutes in a locked room with this demon," and then lunging for Nassar.
"I would've liked five minutes with this guy," Stabenow said. "I only wish that the security had been a little slower in constraining him until he could've gotten a couple of punches out."
Shaheen said there's ample evidence that many were alerted, multiple times, to Nassar's behavior — and found excuses to look the other way.
The committee the senators want to create would have the power to subpoena officials to testify. The aim is to determine how complicit the USOC and national sports governing bodies were, and to recommend solutions to "systemic failures."
The women who came forward to reveal what Nassar did to them are still looking for answers, Shaheen said. And, she added — noting that the Winter Olympics are about to begin — Congress owes it to all Olympians to help change the culture of the Olympic organizations.
"Sometimes our athletes need more than our cheers," she said. "This is one of those times."
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning a hearing to investigate how the institutions involved allowed the abuse to happen.
President Trump is expected to sign soon legislation Congress recently approved to prevent future abuse. Backers said the bill will fix a patchwork of state reporting rules by requiring adults who interact with amateur athletes to report suspected child abuse, including sexual abuse, within 24 hours to local law enforcement.