Star Gymnasts Testify Before Congress on Child Abuse: 'Everybody Around Us Knew ... But They Chose Not to Act'

The athletes also claimed they suffered verbal and emotional abuse due to coaches who criticized even the smallest error

Senate Holds Hearing On Protecting Young Athletes From Sexual Abuse
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Three retired gymnasts told the Senate Judiciary Committee of their experiences of child abuse while competing for USA Gymnastics on Tuesday, expressing support for a bill that they hope will put an end to future incidents.

Gold medalist Dominique Moceanu, bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher and three-time national champion rhythmic gymnast Jessica Howard all testified — both Dantzscher and Howard alleging that they were sexually abused by the team’s former doctor, Larry Nassar.

The athletes also claimed they suffered other types of abuse.

“The well-being of the athletes should always come first, and to me, this is one of the most important things in sport,” Moceanu, a 1996 gold medalist, said in her testimony, noting that she was not abused by Nassar. “And it was lacking in our own sport tremendously because everybody around us knew that abuses were going on, but they chose not to act because it became part of the cultural norm.”

Howard said that she didn’t realize she was being abused until recently, believing Nassar was performing medical actions to relieve her pains.

“Dr. Nassar acted as the good guy, supporting me emotionally and promising me relief from the pain,” Howard told the committee. “Now I know in actuality he expertly abused me under the guise of treatment.”

She added, “Now I know that I am not alone. More than 100 women have come forward and shared stories that are shockingly similar to mine.”

“They failed to take action against coaches, trainers and other adults who abused children,” Dantzscher said. “And they allowed Dr. Nassar to abuse young women and girls for more than 20 years.”

The gymnasts recommended a bill that could overhaul abuse reporting guidelines in Olympic sports. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is co-sponsoring a bill that calls for organizations to immediately report sex abuse allegations to law enforcement or child-welfare authorities.

Nassar, 53, was fired by USA Gymnastics in 2015 and Michigan State University months later as sexual abuse allegations from dozens of women came flooding in.

RELATED VIDEO: Former Gymnast Opens Up About Her Alleged Sexual Abuse From USA Gymnastics’ Official Team Doctor

He is currently imprisoned without bail on the criminal charges, including counts of sexually abusing a family friend and possessing child pornography, the The New York Times reported.

Nassar has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges and denied any wrongdoing — maintaining that the procedures he performed on the gymnasts were legitimate, NBC News reports.

USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny resigned earlier this month amid the scandal.

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