The curtain has closed on the Sochi Olympics. The public media hype has died down, but the memories of being repeatedly molested 16 years ago by an Olympian are still raw.
Today the United States Olympic Committee will begin its "SafeSport Summit," a conference designed to address sexual abuse in club and Olympic sports. Given my experience with the USOC, I am not hopeful that the organization will prevent or help future victims. Here's why:
Over a year ago I came forward to tell my story, that while in 10th grade training for the 1998 Olympic Trials, Andy Gabel, a four-time Olympian, Olympic Silver Medalist, former President of U.S. Speedskating, former Chairman of the International Skating Union Short Track Technical Committee, and former NBC commentator, sexually abused me. I was 15 and he was 33. Shortly after I came forward, another speedskater came forward with an almost-identical story. Andy admitted to a "brief, inappropriate relationship with a female teammate."
While NBC did not re-hire him to commentate this year and I could enjoy watching these Olympics with the volume on, Andy enjoying the Games from his Las Vegas living room is hardly justice for his crimes.
To investigate the abuse accusations against Andy Gabel, U.S. Speedskating retained Ellen Robbins, an intellectual property and patent lawyer at the law firm of Sidley Austin, in March of 2013 -- over a full year ago. Ms. Robbins has no experience with investigating sexual abuse and no criminal or civil rights experience. Andy confessed to an inappropriate relationship with a female athlete and contemporaneously resigned his positions on committees within U.S. Speedskating and the International Skating Union; it shouldn't take a crack lawyer to resolve the issue.
With the "investigation" wrapped up, U.S. Speedskating has declined to take any action against the man who molested me. Andy is still very much a part of the sport, and enjoys an honored place as a lifetime member of U.S. Speedskating. He is still in the U.S. Speedskating Hall of Fame and can still coach or mentor. They won't even allow me to see the report Sidley Austin produced, so I really have no idea what it says.
How can Andy Gabel still be part of my sport? Because Olympic sports' national governing bodies (NGB) are not legally required to act. I believed the United States Olympic Committee and their member NGBs would do the right thing and address sexual abuse swiftly the way that other youth serving organizations do. But the law permits Olympic NGBs to drag their feet or to not act at all. These entities are not subject to Title IX like schools are. Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in school, including sexual abuse, creates the expectation that schools will resolve a complaint of sexual abuse within 60 days. The clock runs from the day the school receives a complaint of sexual abuse through the investigation, hearing, post-hearing motions, and possible appeal. However, the USOC and sports like U.S. Speedskating aren't "educational institutions" thus are not subject to Title IX.
Furthermore, statutes of limitations in New York where I was abused, prevent criminal law enforcement to sanction Andy Gabel. It makes no sense that Andy Gabel and others like him continue to be members in good standing in their sport, still coaching, and still in regular contact with children.
The USOC recognizes the severity of the problem. Its SafeSport program notes that "One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18 -- and with 44 million kids under the age of 18 participating in sport, we have an opportunity to change the odds." Nonetheless, over a year since I came forward and Andy confessed, neither U.S. Speedskating nor the United States Olympic Committee have disciplined him. In fact, U.S. Speedskating has even refused to adopt a rule that would ban anyone from the sport who has been convicted or confessed to child molestation.
I am joining with the Women's Sports Foundation to ask the USOC to form an independent entity that would investigate and adjudicate sexually abusing coaches, mentors, and others in authority position over athletes. Sexual abuse of young athletes is not contained to ice rinks. Predators find children in all sports: at fields, pool decks, and locker rooms nationwide. These abusers need to be banned from coaching, officiating, mentoring, access to arenas, and certainly youth or athletic governing bodies.
The best thing I did was talk. If you know my pain, pick up the phone and call a friend, hotline or even me. You are not alone.
The reality of being a woman — by the numbers. Learn more