USA Gymnastics Allegedly Failed to Alert Authorities to Sexual Abuse Allegations

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistAugust 4, 2016

The rings of the men's Artistic gymnastics can be seen during a practice session at the Olympic Arena on August 3, 2016 ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. / AFP / Emmanuel DUNAND        (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
EMMANUEL DUNAND/Getty Images

USA Gymnastics reportedly declined to alert authorities to a number of sexual abuse allegations made against coaches, according to Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia and Tim Evans of the Indianapolis Star.

According to that report, "USA Gymnastics would not disclose the total number of sexual misconduct allegations it receives each year. But records show the organization compiled complaint dossiers on more than 50 coaches and filed them in a drawer in its executive office."

The Star's report investigated and uncovered four cases where USA Gymnastics was informed of potential sexual abuse and did not alert authorities. According to the report, "Those coaches went on, according to police and court records, to abuse at least 14 underage gymnasts after the warnings."

Marvin Sharp was first accused of "inappropriate touching of minors" in 2011. USA Gymnastics didn't report him to authorities until four years later, after he was accused of "touching a gymnast's vagina, trimming her pubic hair and taking sexually explicit pictures of her beginning when she was 12 years old." He was charged in federal court and killed himself in jail.

USA Gymnastics received "a thick file of complaints" about Mark Schiefelbein before he was convicted in 2003 on "seven counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor."

James Bell was arrested in 2003 on charges of molesting three gymnasts in Rhode Island and is serving eight years in prison. USA Gymnastics had at least one complaint file on Bell before that arrest, and the Star uncovered prior police reports as well.

Finally, USA Gymnastics had four complaints on file about William McCabe dating back to 1998. He was charged with "molesting gymnasts, secretly videotaping girls changing clothes and posting their naked pictures on the internet" and "pleaded guilty in 2006 in Savannah, Georgia, to federal charges of sexual exploitation of children and making false statements." The report noted McCabe is serving a 30-year sentence.

USA Gymnastics defended its practice of not making reports to the police, saying it is following reporting laws. The organization's president, Steve Penny, made the following statement:

USA Gymnastics has a long and proactive history of developing policy to protect its athletes and will remain diligent in evaluating new and best practices which should be implemented. We recognize our leadership role is important and remain committed to working with the entire gymnastics community and other important partners to promote a safe and fun environment for children.

The organization has had the practice of not forwarding complaints to authorities unless they "were signed by a victim or victim's parent." Any reports from a third-party were considered "hearsay," though on occasion, USA Gymnastics would investigate third-party reports. In other incidents, it would abstain from investigating or reporting the information it received.

Indiana state law requires everyone to report sexual abuse, though USA Gymnastics, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, argued that organizations are not bound to this law. Other states have varying laws regarding sexual abuse reporting.

"When an agency receives information, first they need to ask themselves: 'Do I have reason to believe that a child is being abused or neglected based on this information that I've received?'" Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristina Korobov told the Star. "And if so, you make a report. And you make an immediate report. End of story."