The Washington Post has a report out today detailing how failures to address the sexual abuse of children and young women go far beyond USA Gymnastics. And it includes some pretty big numbers on how many reports of possible sexual misconduct are lodged from many of these sports each year.
More than 290 coaches and officials associated with America’s Olympic sports organizations have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct since 1982, according to a Washington Post review of sport governing body banned lists, news clips, and court records in several states. The figure spans parts of 15 sports and amounts to an average of eight adults connected to an Olympic organization accused of sexual misconduct every year — or about one every six weeks — for more than 36 years.
The figure includes more than 175 officials convicted of sex crimes as well as those who never faced criminal charges and have denied claims, such as Andy Gabel, an Olympian and former U.S. Speedskating president banned from the sport in 2013 after two women alleged he forced himself on them; and Don Peters, the 1984 Olympic gymnastics coach banned after two women alleged he had sex with them when they were teenagers.
The reason, the Post found, will feel remarkably similar to the reported motivations of USA Gymnastics: Leaders want to win gold medals, and give that a priority over everything else. Instead of working to prevent abuse, leaders instead set up systems for “limiting legal risk,” as the Post put it.
The Post goes into depth on how that fear of being sued created pushback on even basic, common-sense steps, like the suggestion of creating a handbook on preventing sexual abuse:
In 2011, the USOC started discussing a sex abuse prevention handbook. Circulating education material is a basic safety measure experts have recommended since the 1990s; the Boy Scouts of America started doing it in 1986.
As Olympic officials discussed their handbook in 2011, however, several mentioned a common concern: that the handbook could get them sued by victims, who would use it as evidence Olympic officials knew abuse was a problem but weren’t doing enough to stop it.
“While several NGBs expressed that the handbook sets the proper focus . . . there is also a perception that publishing the handbook will increase their risk of legal liability,” Malia Arrington, a USOC executive in charge of abuse prevention, wrote Blackmun in a December 2011 memo made public by the USOC this year in communication with the Senate.
Of course, there is another way to avoid being sued for sexual abuse—stop it from happening in the first place. That idea, however, didn’t seem to cross the minds of those in power at these sports, at least not as described by the Post’s reporting. You can read the full report here.