Large organizations don’t always protect children from sexual abuse. Over 500 survivors of former physician and rapist Larry Nassar have sued USA Gymnastics, pushing it into bankruptcy. Nonetheless, the powerful organization has survived. Here’s what you need to know about USA Gymnastics, its role in the Nassar scandal, and how survivors of abuse are seeking justice.
What is USA Gymnastics?
USA Gymnastics is the national gymnastics governing body in the United States. Designated by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Gymnastics Federation, it selects the U.S. gymnastics Olympic team and sets national rules for the sport. Its membership includes over 200,000 athletes, clubs, coaches and administrators. Many of those athletes are children.
What is the Larry Nassar child sexual abuse scandal?
Larry Nassar worked as a physician for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. He first joined USA Gymnastics in 1986 as a trainer for the national team. In 1993, he earned a degree in osteopathic medicine, and the following year, as far as the record shows, he began abusing children. Over two decades, he assaulted hundreds of girls.
Nassar was with the U.S. women’s gymnastics team in 1996 and helped Kerri Strug after she injured her ankle during a gold medal-winning vault routine. He was not a predator living in the shadows. He was not a sinister character in the night. Over 20 years, Nassar cultivated a helpful and kind persona as he groomed and abused hundreds of girls, sometimes even in front of their parents, in the guise of giving them medical treatments. He was an active and respected member of the community – which is why so many adults ignored complaint after complaint for so long, including USA Gymnastics.
Hundreds of survivors have come forward, and in 2018 a judge sentenced Nassar to up to 125 years in prison. Over 500 women have sued USA Gymnastics for its role in allowing the abuse.
How has USA Gymnastics handled sexual violence?
Nassar’s case made national headlines, but a 2016 investigation by IndyStar uncovered at least 368 gymnasts who reported sexual abuse by coaches across the country during a 20-year period, according to court documents and police records. Nassar is in prison, but violence by other coaches continues to come to light. We will never know the true extent of the abuse since so many survivors remain silent.
Investigations have found big problems at USA Gymnastics. Gyms are individual businesses with their own rules and owners operating under the umbrella of the organization. As businesses, they have an interest in keeping scandals quiet, so they often quietly fire abusive coaches who move on to other gyms and continue assaulting children.
Once an abuser enters the justice system, settlements often involve confidentiality agreements to keep survivors quiet, and nothing changes.
Why did Nassar get away with abuse for so long?
Adults failed children again and again in the Nassar case by not taking reports seriously. Larry Nassar’s victims made complaint after complaint. They told coaches, parents, police, psychologists and administrators. At every level, the system failed these children, until IndyStar published its 2016 report detailing how USA Gymnastics ignored abuse by gymnastics coaches. A survivor read that story and contacted the newspaper about Nassar. Soon afterward, police found Nassar’s hard drive containing child pornography, and the dominos fell.
Can you file a lawsuit against an organization if you are a survivor of abuse?
Yes. Over 500 survivors of Nassar’s sexual abuse have sued USA Gymnastics, forcing the organization to file for bankruptcy.
Survivors who want to seek justice should seek legal advice from attorneys with experience handling childhood sexual abuse cases against large organizations.
If you or a loved one suffered sexual abuse while participating in USA Gymnastics, you need an advocate on your side who is sensitive to a survivors’ trauma and has extensive experience with these types of legal claims. Attorneys at PCVA have helped many survivors achieve justice and compensation from the organizations that failed to protect them.
When you’re ready, our lawyers are here to listen and help. Talk to a lawyer for free by completing our intake form or calling us at (253) 948-3199 or (206) 536-2850. All conversations are confidential.
If you would like to learn more about resources available to survivors of sexual abuse, visit RAINN.org. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.