The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Athlete Assistance Fund have teamed up to combat child sex abuse in gymnastics

By Char Adams
March 20, 2019 10:49 AM
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Child sex abuse revelations rocked the nation last year as convicted molester (and former USA Gymnastics doctor) Larry Nassar was brought to justice for sexually abusing gymnasts for several years.

Now, a pair of organizations have partnered to prevent and combat child sex abuse within the nation’s gymnastics programs. Officials with The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Athlete Assistance Fund announced on Tuesday that they have teamed up to provide several services and conduct an overarching assessment to address the abuse that has been prevalent in the sport.

“The NYSPCC was so outraged by the Larry Nassar scandal. Hundreds and hundreds of young women and girls were abused and basically everyone at so many institutions looked the other way,” Dr. Mary Pulido, executive director of the NYSPCC tells PEOPLE.

“They failed to stop him, they did not protect the athletes. It went on and on and on. It was a heinous crime. Our passion is to make sure children are safe and make sure children can thrive and grow and practice the sport without fear of being molested.”

The AAF is a non-profit which provides funding to current and former USA Gymnastics member gymnasts who have endured sex abuse within the sport — it was founded in 2018 as a result of the Nassar case. Pulido says AAF officials contacted the NYSPCC, a child protective agency, to lead the anti-child sex abuse project.

“This can’t happen again,” Pulido says. “We can’t ever let something like this happen again. We have to keep it on everyone’s radar.”

Throughout the year, the NYSPCC — with funding from the AAF — will provide counseling services to survivors of child sex abuse while conducting sexual abuse prevention training workshops with athletes, coaches, and parents, to help them identify, report and prevent the abuse. Pulido says the organization will work alongside famed gymnasts, enlisting them in focus groups, to tailor their resources to gymnasts specifically.

The project will also include a handbook to outline policies and procedures to create a safe environment for children.

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“This is for all gymnasts in the country,” Tina Ferriola, of the AAF, tells PEOPLE. “We want to support any survivors in their healing journeys and we also want to be able to provide the expertise, the knowledge, the education to any members of gymnastics in our country to reduce sexual abuse within the sport.”

Last year, Nassar was sentenced to more than 175 years in prison for sexually abusing women and girls for decades during his time at Michigan State University and as a USA Gymnastics doctor.

Nassar was accused of assaulting more than 150 women and girls — including gymnasts Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas — while serving as the USA Gymnastics national team doctor.

Many of Nassar’s accusers have criticized USAG for allegedly enabling the child molester. Raisman even filed a lawsuit against USAG and the U.S. Olympic Committee for allowing Nassar to keep his job while sexually abusing athletes.

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Now, Ferriola says USAG fully supports the anti-child sex abuse efforts, even though the organization is not involved in the partnership. She encourages current or former gymnasts, coaches, parents or club owners/operators to contact the NYSPCC to participate in a focus group.

“The overall vision is really to help our industry realize that these are children first and athletes second,” Ferriola tells PEOPLE. “And to be able to bring forward the ability to talk about sexual abuse within our sport and educate about sexual abuse in our sport so that over time the knowledge is there to prevent sexual abuse in the future.”

The news comes as Michigan lawmakers work to implement a series of reforms intended to support both those abused by Nassar and future survivors of assault, according to MLive. Last year, officials said that Michigan State University will pay $500 million to more than 300 women and girls who accused Nassar of abuse.

USAG did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.