Attorney Paul Mones and his team members were not surprised when the USA Gymnastics sex abuse bombshell dropped. Paul has been representing childhood sex abuse victims for over three decades, and Attorney Courtney Kiehl is a victim-survivor of abuse by her gymnastics coach. Based on what our firm’s clients and other victim-survivors were telling them, they suspected that coaches, gym owners, and support staff from across the country had been sexually abusing young athletes for decades.
The intense pressure put on gymnasts to succeed at all costs, combined with the sport’s emphasis on physical appearance is a toxic combination. There is no telling how many innocent children have suffered because predators were given free rein by people who could have spoken up but chose to remain silent.
Sexual Abuse in Gymnastics
Child predators are drawn to youth sports organizations because they know if they can get their foot in the door they will have virtually unlimited access to children who have been assured the adults they are interacting with have their best interests at heart. This puts abusers in the perfect position to groom potential victims.
Young gymnasts are particularly vulnerable victims because abusers know the kids generally compete as individuals and are therefore apt to develop unusually close relationships with coaches, mentors, and staff members. Things that would normally be a red flag for abuse fly under the radar.
Gymnasts are also used to unorthodox training regimens and are conditioned to believe that intense scrutiny of their bodies is important to advance in the sport.
The culture of many gyms also reinforces bad behavior by claiming pain helps you get stronger, and complaining about something means you are weak.
When a gymnast is winning competitions, nobody cares about a coach’s techniques. He or she may yell and scream at the kids, or make them run laps until they puke, and nobody will say a word. This lack of oversight is dangerous.
Child predators will often seek to join a successful coaching staff, or present themselves as an expert in a particular topic knowing full well that nobody will pay too much attention to their behavior so long as the gymnasts they are working with are competing well.
When a coach is accused of sexual abuse, or even caught in the act, they are often fired unceremoniously and told to leave town or get reported to the police. Days later, another organization will announce they have made a great hire and that coach will be working with new kids. This practice is known as “passing the trash,” and it is shockingly common. Gyms, clubs, rec leagues, and schools don’t seem to care that they have put different kids at risk so long as they no longer have a problem on their team.
Mentors, Support Staff & Medical Staff Are Abusers Too
For years Larry Nassar sexually abused young gymnasts as well as other athletes and non-athletes under the guise of providing treatment during his time serving as a USA Gymnastics national team doctor and an osteopathic physician at Michigan State University. Nobody publicly questioned his unorthodox treatments because he was a doctor, but the testimony in his criminal case makes it clear that he was sexually abusing his patients.
Coaches, parents, and anyone else in a position to do so must aggressively protect athletes against abuse like this that is hiding in plain sight. Trainers, doctors, and other members of a team’s support staff must be carefully vetted and closely supervised. Their interaction with gymnasts must be monitored no matter how trustworthy they seem.
Outside-of-the-gym interaction between players and staff members is always suspect. Staff members who encourage this behavior should be closely monitored for signs that they are abusing their position.
Failure To Report Sexual Abuse in Gymnastics
Oftentimes coaches, support staff, or parents can tell something bad has happened, but the kids are too freaked out or scared to tell them exactly what occurred. This is a huge red flag. Coaches, staffers, and parents must push for the truth in these situations.
If sexual abuse is discovered, it should be immediately reported to the authorities. Too often, coaches, mentors, medical staff, support staff, facility owners, and the organizations that hire and supervise these people are willing to turn a blind eye to questionable behavior that should serve as a warning sign, or even rumors of abuse, if team members are doing well at competitions. This makes them just as guilty as the actual abusers.
Gyms, leagues, and coaches may also be tempted to address allegations of abuse in-house. This is a mistake. Covering up problems instead of properly reporting them makes these people and organizations just as guilty as the abusers they harbor.
You Are Not Alone
One of the most heart-breaking things we hear from the victim-survivors we represent is that they thought they were alone. They thought they were the only ones who went through what they did.
Until they saw a story on the news about others who were abused, or talking to a loved one or therapist made them realize what they experienced was not right, they had tried to normalize or rationalize the abuse they endured.
They spent years thinking they did something wrong instead of blaming the predator that hurt them, or the organization and coaches that failed them.
We are here to say that nobody is alone. We are here to stand with you. We are here to spread the word that victims are not to blame. Abusers and the organizations that shelter them are the villains in this story.
It is time to break the silence that surrounds sexual abuse in the gymnastics world. The Nassar/USA Gymnastics abuse was not an isolated incident. The sexual abuse of young gymnasts is widespread, and it has been going on for years.
The Just Compensation You Deserve
Having your story heard, and bringing an abuser to justice is just one part of the healing process. You may need therapy, or realize that the abuse radically altered the course of your life. That is where monetary compensation comes in.
Seeking compensation for the abuse that you endured can help you move on in ways you never anticipated. It can also send a message that sexual abuse will no longer be quietly swept under the rug. Gyms, clubs, rec leagues, and schools need to be held accountable for the sexual abuse that occurred on their watch.
Experience You Can Trust
Paul Mones has over 30 years of experience representing victims of sexual abuse. He has helped many of them seek compensation and expose the hypocrisy at the heart of organizations that are supposed to be dedicated to enriching kids’ lives.
As a victim-survivor of sexual abuse by her gymnastics coach, Courtney Kiehl brings to her work a keen understanding of the psychological and emotional consequences of sexual abuse. Courtney is determined to bring abusers to justice and help fix the broken system crippling the sport that she loves.
Paul and Courtney urge any gymnast who was sexually abused by a coach, trainer, medical staffer, or fellow teammate to contact our office and share their story.