Report: 368 gymnasts allege sexual exploitation in United States gyms facilities

The abuse is said to have been spread over 20 years and highlights systematic failures which allowed predatory coaches access to children

Gymnastics

Image: John Giles PA Archive/PA Images

As many as 368 gymnasts in the United States have alleged to have been victims of sexual abuse over the past 20 years.

The details emerge from a joint investigation by American publications the Indianapolis Star and USA Today, which comes as a result of a nine-month probe into police files and court documents.

IndyStar claim that they previously reported that top officials at USA Gymnastics, one most prominent Olympic organizations in the country, "failed to alert police to many allegations of sexual abuse that occurred on their watch and stashed complaints in files that have been kept secret". 

"It’s just too easy for coaches to keep getting hired and hired and hired. Sexual abuse thrives on the fact that people are embarrassed about the topic, ashamed to talk about it, and they keep quiet about it," said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, CEO of the advocacy group Champion Women.

Makar, a former Olympic swimmer, added: "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."

One former coach, Jeffrey Bettman is serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges earlier this year.

Bettman was found to have made, and be in possession of, 469 videos of 49 gymnasts he coached. The former coach used secret cameras to film girls aged eight to 16 in changing rooms in gyms in Oregon and California.

Bettman had been fired from at least two other gyms and faced charges in California on allegations of abusing a female gymnast.

"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," the organisation said in a statement to IndyStar.

"We are saddened when any athlete has been harmed in the course of his or her gymnastics career."

The full report can be read here