Gymnastics

Report: 368 Youth Gymnasts Abused In Last 20 Years

More than 100 adults have been accused of abusing gymnasts

Gymnastics
AFP/Getty Images
Dec 15, 2016 at 4:40 PM ET

A nine-month Indianapolis Star investigation into sexual abuse allegations in youth gymnastics programs found that, over the past two decades, 115 adults have been accused of abusing at least 368 gymnasts.

The full report—which is based on thousands of pages of court documents and police records, 20 years of news stories, and more than 100 interviews—is a damning look at USA Gymnastics, which is accused of enabling predatory coaches to relocate to new gyms because it lacked any oversight or record-keeping into troubling allegations. The victims were predominantly female and as young as six, the Star said.

“It’s just too easy for coaches to keep getting hired and hired and hired,” Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic swimmer turned CEO of the advocacy group Champion Women, told the Star. “Sexual abuse thrives on the fact that people are embarrassed about the topic, ashamed to talk about it, and they keep quiet about it. And that’s exactly why molesting coaches keep getting hired at the next place. Nobody talks about a coach that is inappropriate with athletes; the coach quietly moves away and gets hired someplace else”

Among the many disturbing accounts is the case of a coach named Jeffrey Bettman, who made 469 videos of 49 gymnasts with hidden cameras in the girls’ changing rooms. The report noted that he had been fired at least twice for “creepy behavior.” He was dismissed from a gym in Oregon after the gym owner, Jill Hill, witnessed him kissing girls on their foreheads while they sat on his lap with their legs around his waist. Another mother approached Hill to say Bettman had molested her daughter, though that charge was dropped because authorities lacked evidence.

Sometime thereafter, Hill learned that Bettman had been hired elsewhere in the state. Hill told the paper that she contacted the state gymnastics director and USA Gymnastics, but nothing was done. Bettman was later arrested and pleaded guilty to child pornography charges; he is serving 25 years in federal prison.

The Indy Star said that neither USA Gymnastics’ CEO nor any of the board members have agreed to interviews about these allegations. The national governing body released a statement that read, in part:

“Nothing is more important to USA Gymnastics, the Board of Directors and CEO Steve Penny than protecting athletes, which requires sustained vigilance by everyone—coaches, athletes, parents, administrators and officials. We are saddened when any athlete has been harmed in the course of his or her gymnastics career.”

“We find it appalling that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in this manner, and recognize the effect this behavior can have on a person’s life,” the statement continued. “USA Gymnastics has been proactive in helping to educate the gymnastics community and will continue to take every punitive action available within our jurisdiction and cooperate fully with law enforcement.”

The Star noted, however, that USA Gymnastics is fighting a Georgia Supreme Court order that would require the release of depositions and files related to sexual misconduct complaints on 54 coaches.