- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2016

An ongoing investigation into the U.S. gymnastics world reveals hundreds of sex-abuse charges over the past 20 years — and experts say the number is a “severe undercount.”

The IndyStar-USA TODAY Network scoured hundreds of police files and court cases related to sexual abuse in the gymnastics world spanning two decades. Its findings, consolidated into an exposé published Thursday, highlight a sport rife in abuse but lacking in effective safeguards. At issue is how much oversight USA Gymnastics (over 25,000 members strong), should have over independent gyms. 

Some of the newspaper’s findings include:

  • “368 athletes have alleged some form of sexual abuse from coaches, gym owners and other adults working in the sport over the past two decades.”
  • One case involved children as young as 6 being secretly photographed nude by coaches.
  • “115 adults at every level of the sport, from respected Olympic mentors to novices working with recreational gymnasts, were accused.”
  • Gymnastics coach Phillip Paige Bishop was convicted in Michigan of second-degree criminal sexual conduct for molesting a 10-year-old girl in 2010.
  • USA Gymnastics is fighting the newspaper’s attempt to to unseal depositions and sexual misconduct complaint files on 54 coaches. The legal wrangling continues despite a ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court in October that the documents should be made public.
  • “A coach having almost daily sex with a 14-year-old at one of the country’s most prestigious gyms.”

One of the main problems spotlighted in The Indy Star’s investigation is a situation where suspicious coaches “are fired at gym after gym without being tracked or flagged by USA Gymnastics.” Warning signs may result in termination, but until there is an official complaint — and due process is followed out in a court of law — USA Gymnastics can say that its hands are legally tied.

“Nothing is more important to USA Gymnastics, the Board of Directors and CEO Steve Penny than protecting athletes, which requires sustained vigilance by everyone — coaches, athletes, parents, administrators and officials,” the organization said in a statement, the newspaper reported. ” We are saddened when any athlete has been harmed in the course of his or her gymnastics career.”

Detectives and former gymnasts Charmaine Carnes and Jennifer Sey told the newspaper a different story. 

“I made at least 3 calls to US Gymnastics requesting someone call me regarding Child Abuse with no return calls,” Jennifer Baldwin, a detective at the Redmond, Washington, Police Department, wrote in a 2003 report viewed by the newspaper.

Ms. Carnes and Ms. Sey added that they felt pressured to ignore abuse allegations made against coaches Don Peters and Doug Boger.

Marci Hamilton, CEO of CHILD USA, a research and advocacy group based at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Indy Star that it was troubling it took so long for someone to aggregate sex-abuse charges in the sport.

“I’m sad for all the parents and athletes who didn’t have the kind of warning that that number gives you,” Ms. Hamilton said. “But my guess is that it’s a pretty severe undercount.”

Mr. Penny and administrators for Team USA declined multiple interview requests from The IndyStar for its investigation.

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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