Gymnasts, lawmakers cheer bill that would strengthen sexual assault reporting

A week after Dr. Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years for decades of sexual assault against U.S. Olympic gymnasts and other young women, some of those gymnasts joined lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday to celebrate the imminent passage of a bill that would strengthen reporting requirements for sexual assault.

The bill would, in part, require anyone in a national amateur sports organization to report sexual abuse to law enforcement within 24 hours and expand the statute of limitations so that it begins only when a victim realizes he or she has been abused. That expansion is expected to help protect younger victims who may not understand what is happening at the time of assault.

Former Team USA gymnasts Jeanette Antolin, Mattie Larson, Jamie Dantzscher and Dominique Moceanu joined Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Susan Collins, who wrote the Senate bill, and Reps. Susan Brooks and Lois Frankel, who wrote a companion bill in the House. The bill passed the House 406-3 and is expected to pass the Senate unanimously Tuesday.

“Today would not have been possible without the women standing here,” Feinstein said. “They decided to come forward, they shared their pain and they did everything they could to see that what happened to them would never happen to anyone else again.”

While the lawmakers and gymnasts cheered the bill’s progress, Antolin noted that there is still much more to be done, including what the gymnasts hope is a congressional investigation into why USA Gymnastics and others did not do more when the allegations were first reported.

“Time is not on our side. We must act now. Time is up,” Antolin said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said he would exercise oversight of the new law’s implementation to make sure sports organizations are complying. His panel, of which Feinstein is the ranking member, held a hearing in March on protecting young athletes from abuse. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has also said it will hold hearings to investigate abuse and mistreatment of athletes, focusing on gymnastics and also swimming and Taekwondo, and why the USA Gymnastics did not do more to respond to these allegations.

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