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Settlement reached with USA Gymnastics and hundreds of sexual abuse victims

December 22, 2021 | Sexual Harassment

Sexual abuse is personal injury.  Sexual abuse by trusted professionals is a crime.  A lack of response to claims of abuse is systemic in the medical profession, sports and institutions we rely upon for justice.  This is an environment ripe for change.

On December 13, 2021 a five-year uphill battle for justice ended when a settlement was reached between USA Gymnastics and hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, the former team doctor, among others.  Also at issue is “an entire system that allowed his abuse,” Simone Biles tearfully testified.  A July report by the Office of the Inspector General found that senior officials in the FBI Indianapolis field office failed to respond to allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by Nassar “with the urgency that the allegations required” and “failed to take other steps to mitigate the ongoing threat posed by Nassar.” These girls and women struggled to find a foothold in defending themselves from Nassar’s predatory behavior. They revealed their experiences to various professionals who refused to believe or respond to their experiences and when they mustered their courage to ask the FBI to protect them they were betrayed. The betrayal was systemic.

More recently the LA Times reported on physicians who had their licenses reinstated after criminal convictions of sexual misconduct. The California Medical Board has wide latitude when considering applications for reinstatement. The process is inherently flawed, said some experts, because the board allows mental health providers to be selected and paid for by the doctors.  Many choose to see family and marriage counselors or sex-addiction specialists, when what they really need are certified sex-offender therapists who will provide more rigorous and appropriate treatment, said Rory Reid, a UCLA research psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry who has treated compulsive sexual behavior disorder and sex offenders.  Doctors accused of sexual misconduct should be required to pick from a provider list approved by the Medical Board to ensure they receive appropriate therapy, Reid said. But the board maintains no such list.  All the doctors who committed sexual misconduct and got their licenses back provided testimony from therapists who said they were safe to resume practicing, The Times found. They also acknowledged that their accusers had been telling the truth.

Almost impossible to believe, the victims were not apprised of the return of their abuser to medical practice.

Change will come slowly. But it will come. It will come with the strength and effort of many voices. The voices of the victims that deserve closure. Voices supported by a community that believes and empathizes. 

Patients in California successfully removed the licenses of predatory medical professionals.  The process of license reinstatement must be more stringent.  In the wake of questions raised, Board President Kristina Lawson said she has directed the staff to look into notifying victims before reinstating doctors’ licenses and providing a venue for victims to be heard during the reinstatement process.  With the perseverance of these survivors and others, medical boards will change their criteria for license reinstatement.

To date, the brave, outspoken gymnasts are crafting change at USA Gymnastics. “Individually and collectively, survivors have stepped forward with bravery to advocate for enduring change in this sport,” USA Gymnastics President Li Li Leung said in a statement after the settlement was approved. The provisions include a dedicated seat on the organization’s Safe Sport Committee, Athlete Health and Wellness Council and the board of directors, as well as a thorough look at the culture and practices within USA Gymnastics that allowed abusers such as Nassar to run unchecked for years.

The same gymnasts have forced change at the FBI. The FBI accepted in full the four recommendations of the Office of the Inspector General who investigated the complaints against the FBI. The letter from Assistant Director Douglas A. Leff can be read at Appendix 108 in the Investigation and Review of the FBI’s Handling of Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Former USA Gymnastics Physician Lawrence Gerard Nassar 21-093 JULY 2021. The recommendations are in the preceding summarizing paragraph of the report.