(Senate - January 30, 2018)

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[Pages S589-S591]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                              ACT OF 2017

  Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I ask the Chair to lay before the 
Senate the message to accompany S. 534.
  The Presiding Officer laid before the Senate the following message 
from the House of Representatives:

       Resolved, That the bill from the Senate (S. 534) entitled 
     ``An Act to prevent the sexual abuse of minors and amateur 
     athletes by requiring the prompt reporting of sexual abuse to 
     law enforcement authorities, and for other purposes.'', do 
     pass with an amendment.

  Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, nearly a year ago, I met with six 
gymnasts. All of these young women were world-class athletes. All of 
them had put their faith in USA Gymnastics. And all of them were 
sexually abused by an adult who had earned their trust.
  It was one of the most difficult meetings I have held as a Senator. 
Listening to their stories of abuse and how the system let them down 
left me with equal parts sadness and rage.
  These young women weren't telling me their stories to get legislation 
passed, but that afternoon, I promised them I would do all I could to 
make sure no one else ever experienced the agony that they had.
  I am proud that the Senate will come together and pass the Protecting 
Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act in 
order to send it to the President's desk.
  This bill is intended to protect young athletes who participate in 
amateur sports from the sexual abuse that these gymnasts had to suffer.
  In the House, Representative Susan Brooks from Indiana and 
Representative Lois Frankel from Florida, who cochair the Women's 
Caucus, partnered with us on this bill. They have been strong champions 
in protecting young women from abuse.
  This bill wouldn't have been possible without the courageous 
survivors who shared their stories.
  Some of the same women who I spoke with in February came back to 
Washington in March to speak about the bill. It was a very powerful 
hearing that touched many of us.
  One of those brave women was Jamie Dantzscher, who won a bronze medal 
in 2000.
  Jamie told the Judiciary Committee in moving testimony that she fell 
in love with gymnastics at a very young age. Her parents had to beg her 
to leave the gym after practice because gymnastics brought her such 
  While she competed with the national team led by USA Gymnastics, team 
doctor Larry Nassar was assigned to provide her with medical treatment.
  As any young woman would, Jamie put her faith in Nassar, who was 
employed by USA Gymnastics, but her faith was turned on its head in 
horrifying ways. In Jamie's words: ``What I have only recently come to 
understand is that the medical treatment he performed for my back pain 
and other injuries was sexual assault. Dr. Nassar abused me at the USA 
National Training Center in Texas. He abused me in California and at 
meets all over the world. Many times the abuse took place in my own 
room, in my own bed. Worse, he abused me in my hotel room in Sydney at 
the Olympic Games.''
  Jamie went on: ``When I first spoke out about my abuse at the hands 
of Dr. Nassar, I thought I was the only one. I was disbelieved and even 
criticized by some in the gymnastics community for bringing this 
disturbing issue to light.''
  It is impossible to imagine the horror that Jamie felt, but what we 
do know is that Jamie wasn't the only victim.
  Jessica Howard was a 15-year-old rhythmic gymnast when Nassar began 
abusing her. She testified that her first few years of training were 
``pure bliss.'' Eventually, she was sent to Nassar for hip problems. 
Nassar told her she shouldn't wear underwear for her treatments.
  Jessica was confused, but she was fearful to say anything to anyone. 
She believed she would be prevented from pursuing her dreams if she 
said anything. This is how so much of this abuse was conducted, under a 
shroud of fear that the athletes' dreams would be quashed.
  Later in her life, Jessica served on USA Gymnastics' board of 
directors. In Jessica's words: ``As an adult, I spent years serving on 
the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors with a mission of protecting 
children in my sport from the psychological abuse that I endured. But 
the meetings seemed to revolve around two things: money and medals. 
When a sexual abuse case came up during my time on the board, the 
concern was about the reputation of the coach, not the accusation of 
the athlete. As I have attempted to come to terms with what happened to 
me as a teenager, it has become glaringly obvious that USA Gymnastics 
has not done nearly enough to protect athletes from any form of 
  Jessica and others like her were silenced by a culture of complicity 
where those in power refused to promote a safe environment and 
survivors could report abuse. That is what the bill we will pass aims 
to change.
  Finally, I would like to talk about another gymnast we heard from 
more recently. Aly Raisman, one of the most decorated Olympic gymnasts 
ever, revealed that she, too, was sexually abused by Larry Nassar, 
starting when she was 15 years old.
  As Aly said, ``I didn't know anything differently. We were told he is 
the best doctor.''
  As a result, Nassar used this trust to manipulate hundreds of victims 
so they couldn't fully understand that they were being abused.
  When telling her story, Aly asked, ``Why are we looking at why didn't 
the girls speak up? Why not look at what about the culture? What did 
USA Gymnastics do, and Larry Nassar do, to manipulate these girls so 
much that they are so afraid to speak up? I am angry.''
  I think we should all be angry by what we have heard from these brave 
young women. When I heard these stories, I found a common theme: The 
very institutions tasked with protecting these athletes allowed this 
egregious conduct to occur.
  In my view, these governing bodies were, at best, complicit in the 
devastation wrought on these young children

[[Page S590]]

and their families. They did far too little to prevent abuse from 
happening in the first place, and when they saw signs of abuse, they 
did little to stop it.
  In fact, USA Gymnastics, which oversees more than 3,000 gymnasiums 
nationwide, had bylaws that actually made it more difficult for 
survivors to report abuse.
  For example, the only way for a member athlete to ``effectively'' 
make a complaint about a coach was through a signed, written complaint. 
Not only is this an ineffective way to prevent sexual abuse, it 
actually serves to protect the abusers by making it harder for child 
victims to come forward.
  USA Gymnastics didn't even require that sexual abuse be reported to 
law enforcement when it was discovered. It was a disgusting abuse of 
power, to say the least.
  After we introduced our legislation, USA Gymnastics hired former 
Federal prosecutor Deborah Daniels to conduct an independent review of 
USA Gymnastics' policies and procedures. Needless to say, they were 
found to be woefully ineffective and insufficient. After reviewing 
documents and interviewing nearly 160 individuals, Daniels recommended 
nearly 70 policy changes, including a recommendation that USA 
Gymnastics ``undergo a complete cultural change, permeating the entire 
organization and communicated to the field in all its actions.''
  In one damning finding, Daniels stated, ``The overall impression 
received externally is that the athlete protection function is, at 
best, secondary to the primary focus: winning medals.'' That is 
completely unacceptable.
  The legislation we will soon pass does three main things to help 
protect sex abuse victims and reform institutions like USA Gymnastics.
  First, the bill makes it mandatory for anyone affiliated with USA 
Gymnastics, or any other national governing body or amateur sports 
organization that crosses State lines, to immediately report sexual 
abuse to local and Federal law enforcement or social services agencies. 
This requirement would apply to USA Gymnastics and each of the other 47 
national governing bodies that oversee a variety of Olympic sports, 
including USA Taekwondo, USA Speed Skating, USA Swimming, and USA 
Cycling. It is absolutely imperative that a firm line be drawn for 
everyone working with national governing bodies and amateur sports 
organizations. Once there is suspicion of abuse, a report must be made 
as soon as possible to law enforcement. This bill mandates that.
  Second, the bill strengthens the law that allows victims of sex abuse 
to file suits against those who abused them to commit crimes such as 
sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child pornography. It 
clarifies, for example, that victims of child sex crimes are entitled 
to statutory damages of $150,000, as well as punitive damages, due to 
the heinous nature of the crimes.
  The bill also extends the statute of limitations so that victims can 
sue their abusers 10 years after they become aware of their abuse. This 
is important because, tragically, survivors often do not fully become 
aware of their abuse until later in life. The statute of limitations 
extension is part of legislation that Senator Cornyn and I have worked 
on over the past couple of years, called the Extending Justice for Sex 
Crime Victims Act.
  Third, the bill makes reforms to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur 
Sports Act, which establishes ``national governing bodies'' like USA 
Gymnastics. When I first contacted USA Gymnastics about its poor 
handling of sexual abuse allegations, the group cited the Stevens Act 
as a shield, saying that it prevented them from doing more to protect 
athletes from sexual abuse. The bill we are passing is a direct 
response to that claim.
  It requires the newly created U.S. Center for Safe Sport--championed 
by Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune and Ranking Member Bill 
Nelson--to establish strict policies and procedures for handling abuse 
allegations, as well as oversight procedures to make sure these 
policies are adhered to by every national governing body.
  The reforms in the bill ensure that national governing bodies and 
amateur sports organizations will adopt five baseline policy 
  First, specific policies and procedures for mandatory reporting of 
sex abuse to law enforcement. Second, policies and procedures to keep 
track of coaches who leave one gym only to repeat the cycle of abuse at 
another gym. Third, policies to avoid circumstances where minors and 
adults are in one-on-one situations. Fourth, policies to facilitate 
reporting of sex abuse allegations to national governing bodies and 
other authorities. And fifth, stronger oversight and enforcement 
policies so that complaints are dealt with uniformly and with fairness 
and due process.
  These new provisions give national governing bodies like USA 
Gymnastics no excuse not to prevent abuse or to report it when it 
  All over the country, survivors of sexual abuse are coming forward to 
tell their stories of abuse and exploitation. Multiple survivors from 
around the country have contacted my office and described with great 
courage their pain and anguish. Each of these stories represents an 
untold amount of pain and suffering that has generational ripple 
effects. It is absolutely devastating.
  This is why I am so encouraged that my colleagues in this body will 
soon pass this important legislation to protect abuse victims.
  I would also like to acknowledge the list of 270 organizations and 
individuals who have contributed to and supported this bill. Their 
names are listed on our website.
  I would also like to recognize my staff who have worked on this bill, 
including Peter Hyun, Ashley Schapitl, Sarah Chang, Matthew Halek, 
Jennifer Duck, and Tom Mentzer.
  I would also like to thank Peter Feldman and Ashok Pinto from Senator 
Thune's staff, Christian Fjeld and Ioana Gorecki from Senator Nelson's 
staff, Evelyn Fortier and Kyle McCollum from Senator Grassley's staff, 
Rob Hicks from Representative Susan Brooks' staff, Meg Barr from House 
Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte's office, and Yana Mayayeva from 
Representative Lois Frankel's staff
  Finally, I would like to recognize two individuals who recently 
passed away. Both were fierce advocates on behalf of survivors of 
  Barbara Blaine, who founded SNAP, the Survivors Network of those 
Abused by Priests, passed away in Utah, and Kristine Ward, the 
cofounder of National Survivor Advocates Coalition, passed away in 
Ohio. Both of these extraordinary women spent much of their lives 
giving a powerful voice to those who have been sexually abused.
  This bill attempts to do what both women so powerfully advocated for 
throughout their lives: speak for the voiceless and demand the change 
necessary to protect our children, our most precious resource.
  Thank you very much.
  Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, I want to take a moment to discuss the 
Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act. This legislation, which 
Senator Feinstein sponsored and I cosponsored, would promote mandatory 
reporting of suspected abuse of young athletes and give survivors new 
tools to hold perpetrators accountable.
  As Senate Judiciary chairman, I last year convened a hearing on this 
legislation, which helped build momentum for its committee approval and 
passage. I am proud to have helped shepherd this bill through our 
committee and the Senate, and I am delighted that we are about to send 
this bill to the President for his signature.
  Our congressional hearing illustrated just how bad the problem of 
sexual abuse in youth sports has become, how long it went on, how many 
athletes were affected, and, in some cases, how slow the response was 
from those charged with ensuring these young athletes' safety. To say 
that I was alarmed by what we learned at that March 28 hearing would be 
a huge understatement.
  Abuse that occurs by someone in a position of trust, in what should 
be a safe environment, such as youth athletics programs, is simply 
outrageous. Sadly, however, sports officials adopted policies that may 
have allowed predators to victimize children long after they had good 
reason to suspect sexual abuse.
  Recently, we have heard reports that gymnastics officials took as 
long as 5 weeks to report suspected abuse to the FBI. We have also 
heard allegations that gymnasts were pressured to remain silent after 
they brought the

[[Page S591]]

abuse to gymnastics officials' attention. It is imperative that we 
uncover whatever systemic failures that allowed a predator to 
singlehandedly target hundreds of girls and young women for so long.
  Sexual abuse is a heinous crime, so we must continue to seek justice 
for these victims. We also need to understand why allegations of sexual 
abuse so often remain hidden, instead of being immediately reported to 
law enforcement. The average perpetrator strikes multiple times before 
being caught, which is why it is so important that these crimes be 
promptly reported and investigated. I intend to continue to do 
oversight in this area and champion policies to protect the innocent 
from sexual abuse.
  I thank each of the athletes who came forward to report abuse. Their 
courage helped make passage of this bill possible.
  Mr. McCONNELL. I move to concur in the House amendment, and I know of 
no further debate on the motion.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there further debate?
  If not, the question is on agreeing to the motion to concur.
  The motion was agreed to.
  Mr. McCONNELL. I ask unanimous consent that the motion to reconsider 
be considered made and laid upon the table.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.