Hundreds of US gymnasts allege sexual abuse

Hundreds of US gymnasts allege sexual abuse

Hundreds of US gymnasts have come forward to say they were sexually abused by adults in the sport.


A nine-month investigation by the Indianapolis Star finds 368 gymnasts allege abuse over 20 years, by at least 100 coaches, gym owners and others.


The allegations come amid claims that the US body that governs gymnastics did not do enough to prevent the assaults.


But USA Gymnastics says it is “proud of the work it has done to address and guard against child sexual abuse”.


The sport received huge attention earlier in the year due to the success of its women’s team at the Rio Olympics.


The newspaper writes that gym owners and athletes were reluctant to come forward with their allegations for fear that they would attract negative attention and lose potentially lucrative sponsorships.


Those that did complain to USA Gymnastics felt that their claims were ignored, as the governing body failed to alert police to the alleged crimes.


“Some coaches are fired at gym after gym without being tracked or flagged by USA Gymnastics, or losing their membership with the organisation,” authors Tim Evans, Mark Alesia and Marisa Kwiatkowski report.


Dozens of athletes say the powerful body – which determines who represents Team USA at the Olympic Games – never even replied to some of those making the claims.


Gymnastics officials dispute that claims were kept quiet in order to preserve the reputation of the sport.


“Nothing is more important to USA Gymnastics, the Board of Directors and chief executive Steve Penny than protecting athletes, which requires sustained vigilance by everyone – coaches, athletes, parents, administrators and officials,” the organisation said in a statement.


“We are saddened when any athlete has been harmed in the course of his or her gymnastics career,” USA Gymnastics said, adding that mandatory background checks are now being performed on all coaches.


Earlier this year, lawsuits were filed against doctor Larry Nassar, a former longtime doctor for USA Gymnastics, by women gymnasts accusing him of sexual assault, which he denies.


Rachel Denhollinder told the BBC she was sexually assaulted when she was 15 years old and went to see Dr Nassar while he was working at Michigan State University.


Ms Denhollinder said Dr Nassar sexually assaulted her while treating her, with her mother in the room.
“He would position his hands in a way that she could not see what he was doing,” she said.


“It was very difficult to reconcile the person he was supposed to be and with what he was doing and so the only conclusion I could come to was that there must be something wrong with me.”


Dr Nassar pleaded not guilty last month to charges of sexually assaulting a minor.