Statement before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing on S-534, Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act of 2017 from Paul Parilla, USA Gymnastics Board of Directors Chairman
March 28, 2017
Senator Grassley and Senator Feinstein:
As chairman of USA Gymnastics, I am pleased to offer this statement regarding S-534, Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act of 2017. We believe S-534 offers important new tools that will be valuable as we modify our policies, procedures and programs, and USA Gymnastics strongly endorses this legislation for the concepts it moves forward into law.
The gymnastics community has been shaken to its core by recent events. As concerns about Dr. Larry Nassar have come to light, USA Gymnastics is appalled that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in the manner alleged, and we offer our sincere and heartfelt regrets and sympathies to any athlete who was harmed during his or her gymnastics career. The gymnastics community realizes that, despite our efforts over more than 20 years, we need to do more. We can and we will.
To that end, USA Gymnastics is conducting the most comprehensive, thorough and independent review to date of our existing policies, procedures and guidelines regarding sexual misconduct to identify ways to refine our policies and better protect youth. Former federal prosecutor Deborah Daniels is leading this community-wide effort designed to examine the culture and governance and to generate recommendations that can help USA Gymnastics strengthen its efforts in this area.
The USA Gymnastics Board of Directors has established a Policy Review Panel to review the organization’s policies and procedures in all areas. The Policy Review Panel will implement Ms. Daniels’ recommendations once they have been presented to and approved by the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors. Changes already made include: emphasizing mandatory immediate reporting by members of all allegations of sexual abuse; compliance with the U.S. Center for SafeSport; and creation of a new staff position of Director of Safe Sport. USA Gymnastics is also initiating a national search for a new president and CEO.
The United States Olympic Committee, with support of the National Governing Bodies, has established the U.S. Center for SafeSport. This independent organization will handle matters involving child sexual abuse for all U.S. Olympic and Paralympic sports and is expected to become for issues of abuse what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has become for combating performance-enhancing drugs.
Consistent with these actions and improvements, S-534 will codify and strengthen actions that USA Gymnastics and other amateur sports organizations are taking. It will ensure a more uniform set of principles and practices across all U.S. Olympic and Paralympic sports.
Regarding mandatory reporting, if a USA Gymnastics member receives a complaint or report of alleged sexual abuse from anyone, a report must be filed with both law enforcement/child protection services and the U.S. Center for Safe Sport.
USA Gymnastics has already implemented some policy and procedural changes, as noted above, and we anticipate Ms. Daniels’ report will recommend adjustments in many areas throughout our organization. She is examining our policies and procedures and comparing what we do today with best practices. We stand ready to build the strongest system of protection among the NGBs.
To be clear, whether S-534 is enacted or not, USA Gymnastics will take action that will address the principal concepts of S-534.
- Expand education and outreach to the broader gymnastics community.
- Reinforce mandatory reporting requirements within our organization for sexual abuse allegations.
- Continue to follow best practices in support of reporting.
- Establish additional, pro-active policies regarding professional boundaries and eliminating grooming opportunities, such as one-on-one situations, travel, and social media/electronic communication between minors and adults.
- Identify additional methods to support member clubs in their efforts to keep inappropriate adults out of their facilities.
USA Gymnastics looks forward to working with the Committee to develop the best possible tools to support NGBs in their efforts to keep all participants safe, to include:
- Developing mechanisms for increased auditing and review of programs and those of member facilities to ensure compliance.
- Developing a legally implementable method to track adults who have been fired and/or are suspected of abuse to keep them out of the sport.
USA Gymnastics recognizes that we are dealing with a serious problem – and we recommit ourselves to promoting a safe environment for our athletes. We acknowledge this requires ongoing vigilance by the entire gymnastics community, and we will continue to refine and improve to make our sport as safe as we can.
Thank you, and please let us know how we can assist you in moving S-534 forward.
Background on USA Gymnastics
USA Gymnastics is the national governing body for gymnastics in the United States. It gets this designation from the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Gymnastics Federation. USA Gymnastics, headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind., sets the rules and policies that govern the sport of gymnastics. USA Gymnastics has many responsibilities, including selecting and training the U.S. gymnastics teams for the Olympic Games and World Championships; promoting and developing gymnastics on the grassroots and national levels; and serving as a resource center for members, clubs, fans and gymnasts throughout the United States. USA Gymnastics also provides continuing education resources for new and experienced coaches and instructors in the sport. USA Gymnastics encompasses six disciplines: women’s gymnastics, men’s gymnastics, trampoline and tumbling, rhythmic gymnastics, acrobatic gymnastics, and gymnastics for all.
Today, more than 192,000 athletes and professionals are members of USA Gymnastics. USA Gymnastics has more than 156,000 athletes registered in competitive programs, as well as more than 36,000 professional members. In addition, nearly 3,500 privately owned gymnastics clubs are members of USA Gymnastics. Approximately 4,000 competitions and events throughout the USA are sanctioned annually.
Over the past two decades, USA Gymnastics has taken a number of important steps to update and improve policies and procedures, including mandatory criminal background screening for professional members; a published “banned member” list (the first NGB to do so); mandatory safety/risk management certification of professional members; a Participant Welfare Policy; and educational outreach to the membership and community on prevention of and recognizing child sex abuse. Information on these topics is available at usagymparents.com and usagym.org/safesport.