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'Indianapolis Star' Reveals USA Gymnastics Failed To Report Abuse Cases

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

At the Olympics, the U.S. women's gymnastics team is expected to bring home several gold medals. As that is happening, some allegations have come to light about the sport. And a warning, they might be disturbing to some listeners.

Several gymnastics coaches abused underage gymnasts for years after USA Gymnastics, the sport's governing body, ignored complaints and warnings about what was happening. A new report in The Indianapolis Star details four cases where USA Gymnastics failed to report allegations of sexual abuse by coaches. Marisa Kwiatkowski was 1 of 3 reporters on this story, and she is with us now. Welcome to the show.

MARISA KWIATKOWSKI: Thank you for having me.

MCEVERS: First could you just explain in more detail what exactly USA Gymnastics is and how it relates to, say, the Olympic Games?

KWIATKOWSKI: USA Gymnastics is the national governing body for the sport of gymnastics, so they set the rules and policies that govern the sport in the United States. They also select the U.S. Olympic gymnastics teams and develop them.

MCEVERS: One of the coaches that you focus on in your report is a man named Bill McCabe. He pled guilty to secretly videotaping young gymnasts while they were changing clothes. One of those gymnasts has filed a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics. What is it that they're saying that USA Gymnastics knew about Bill McCabe?

KWIATKOWSKI: They're arguing that USA Gymnastics had received multiple warnings about Bill McCabe, and the family is arguing that those warnings were not reported to authorities. The warnings included misconduct involving a young cheerleader at a gym where McCabe had worked. They include getting a 15-year-old down to her underwear and telling a staff member that he thought he would be able to have sex with her very soon.

These allegations piled up over a short period of time, but they were particularly egregious. He was fired from two gyms in less than a year.

MCEVERS: One mother was sent some documents about Bill McCabe, and she says in this lawsuit that USA Gymnastics did nothing about them and told her that no complaints had been received. Is that correct?

KWIATKOWSKI: That's correct.

MCEVERS: Do they have a policy about these sorts of allegations?

KWIATKOWSKI: According to court records and depositions taken in the case that you referenced earlier, USA Gymnastics had an executive policy of dismissing allegations of sexual misconduct unless they came directly from a victim or a victim's parent. Even today they still say that they need firsthand knowledge of a complaint before they can move forward on it.

MCEVERS: Because they say it's hearsay otherwise.

KWIATKOWSKI: Correct.

MCEVERS: What do Child Welfare advocates say about this requirement?

KWIATKOWSKI: Well, some called it absurd. Some called it troubling. They said that best practice would be for USA gymnastics to turn over all allegations of sexual misconduct against coaches to authorities, to police, to Child Welfare officials to let the experts determine whether or not it's something that should be pursued for investigation.

MCEVERS: Were you able to speak to anyone at USA Gymnastics about these claims?

KWIATKOWSKI: We did speak with them through writing. They declined to be interviewed directly. But we, over several months, went back and forth with them with a number of questions.

MCEVERS: And what were their responses?

KWIATKOWSKI: They said that they believe they're doing enough to protect children, that they've worked diligently for more than 30 years to protect children and that they are following child abuse reporting laws.

MCEVERS: In your reporting, you also talked to victims of sexual abuse by gymnastics coaches and families of the victims. What did they say?

KWIATKOWSKI: They're frustrated. They want to be safe in the sport. All of them love the sport of gymnastics, and they feel very strongly that it's a terrific sport. But they think that they may not have been victims of these crimes if these allegations had been reported to authorities earlier.

MCEVERS: You also report that there are so-called complaint documents on more than 50 coaches. Those documents are currently sealed pending a motion by your newspaper to make them public. Is it possible that among those 50 there could be more cases like the ones you already found?

KWIATKOWSKI: It's hard to speculate on what may be in those files. We did ask USA Gymnastics to provide us with those files, but they said that they keep those files strictly confidential because of the privacy of those involved. But what is actually contained in those files we just don't know.

MCEVERS: Marisa Kwiatkowski of The Indianapolis Star, thank you very much.

KWIATKOWSKI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.