Bill to protect young athletes from sexual abuse becomes US law

Photo: Mark Fischer/Flickr. 


By Mads A. Wickstrøm
A new law designed to protect young athletes in the US comes into force amidst widespread criticism of national sports bodies.

Last week, US President, Donald Trump, signed legislation passed by Congress in January to protect young athletes from sexual abuse. The new law requires governing bodies for amateur sports to report claims of abuse to law enforcement. As such, individuals who are required, but fails to report suspected child sex abuse is now subject to criminal penalties.

According to USA Today, supporters of the bill said a patchwork of state laws on reporting suspected sex abuse made it necessary to enact a uniform national standard that applies to amateur sports organisations that participate in interstate and international events.

The bill extends the limitations for a minor victim of a sex offense to file a civil lawsuit from 3 to 10 years from the date the victim reaches the age of 18. Additionally, the new law requires national sports governing bodies to “develop and enforce policies, mechanisms, and procedures to prevent, report, and respond to the abuse of minor or amateur athletes”.

“These bills support our steadfast commitment to ending these horrific crimes," White House spokeswoman, Lindsay Walters, said in a statement to Indy Star.

Sports organisations under scrutiny

The law can be seen as a response to the USA Gymnastics abuse scandal where former Michigan State University doctor, Larry Nassar molested young gymnasts while claiming he was performing a “special treatment” on them. Last month, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison.

USA Gymnastics has faced stark criticism over its inability to take action on sexual abuse claims. Last year, an independent review of the organisation’s handling of sexual abuse incidents found that USA Gymnastics had failed to properly educate its staff, athletes and members about protecting children from sexual abuse, and to ensure that safeguards were being followed.

However, USA Gymnastics is not the only sports body under scrutiny. Last week, an extensive report into USA Swimming discovered that the organisation had knowingly ignored and covered up hundreds of abuse cases. The report claims that the leadership of the US swimming body knew about coaches that engaged in abusive behavior towards the athletes they were coaching.


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