SafeSport & USA Gymnastics – Reporting Procedures for Sexual and Non-Sexual Misconduct

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Going back to 2012, USA Gymnastics has provided education and reporting information regarding sexual and non-sexual misconduct to it’s members, athletes, and clubs through the Clubs Care and We Care Campaigns.

Now, as of March 2017, USA Gymnastics has aligned with the U.S. Center for SafeSport to educate and investigate & resolve alleged violations of the SafeSport Code for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement’s national governing bodies.  This has replaced the Clubs Care and We Care Campaigns.

These violations include;

  1. Emotional misconduct
  2. Physical misconduct
  3. Sexual misconduct
  4. Bullying
  5. Hazing
  6. Harassment

SafeSport and USA Gymnastics will each handle the investigation and resolution of specific SafeSport Code violations.

USA Gymnastics states, “With the advent of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, USA Gymnastics will refer all cases involving sexual misconduct to the Center, as well as report to law enforcement or child protective services.”  They go on to say, “Per the Center’s direction, all other abuse cases will continue to be handled by USA Gymnastics.  USA Gymnastics, at its discretion, may refer non-sexual abuse complaints to the Center, and the Center will evaluate whether or not to accept that case.

Who Must Report

Based on the definitions in the SafeSport Code; Covered Individuals (Adults – 18 years of age & older and Minors – under the age of 18) who (a) is or was, at the time of a violation, within the control or disciplinary jurisdiction of a National Governing Body (NGB) or who is intending to join a NGB, (b) an athlete or non-athlete that a NGB or the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) gives authority, approves or appoints to an authoritative position over athletes or will have regular contact with athletes, (c) an individual who a NGB recognizes as being under their office’s jurisdiction.

In summary, USA Gymnastics lists the following roles as Covered Individuals;

  1. Members of USA Gymnastics
    1. Professional Members
    2. Jr. Professional Members
    3. Instructors
    4. Athletes
  2. Applicants for membership with USA Gymnastics
  3. Individuals who were members at the time of a violation
  4. Staff and Board Members of USA Gymnastics
  5. Event staff (who have access to the competition floor)
  6. Medical personal
  7. Chaperones
  8. Athlete Development Center support staff
  9. Contracted staff who are working with or around athletes

This does not mean that a parent or gymnastics fan who witnesses a violation can not or should not report.

Anyone who witnesses any form of a violation should file a report with either SafeSport or USA Gymnastics and with the local authorities.

Photo: Spectrum Magazine

What to Report

How do I know what is reportable?

Some examples of common questions which have been heard within the gymnastics community;

  • Is a coach who makes an athlete climb the rope 10 times for falling off the beam a violation?
  • What if a coach makes an athlete stay on pommel horse, for not finishing an assignment, by themselves while the rest of the athletes leave for the day?
  • How about a slap on the bottom by a fellow athlete after completing a stuck routine?
  • Is calling an athlete a cry baby because they are upset that they didn’t get a score they wanted a violation?

Do any of these scenarios fall under the umbrella of sexual or non-sexual misconduct?

Listed below are detailed definitions of violations per the SafeSport Code that will answer these questions and more;

A. Emotional Misconduct

Repeated and/or severe non-contact behavior involving (a) Verbal Acts, (b) Physical Acts and/or (c) Acts that Deny Attention or Support. Emotional Misconduct is determined by the objective behaviors, not whether harm is intended or results from the behavior.

1. Verbal Acts – Verbal assault that repeatedly attacks someone personally (e.g., calling a person worthless, fat or disgusting; taunting a person for being too effeminate); repeatedly and excessively yelling at a particular athlete or other participant in a manner that serves no productive training or motivational purpose.

2. Physical Acts – Physically aggressive behaviors, such as throwing sport equipment, water bottles or chairs at or in the presence of others; punching walls, windows or other objects.

3. Acts that Deny Attention or Support – Ignoring or isolating a person for extended periods of time, including routinely or arbitrarily excluding a participant from practice.

4. Exclusions – Emotional Misconduct does not include professionally accepted and age-appropriate coaching methods for skill and performance enhancement, physical conditioning, team building or appropriate discipline.

5. Criminal conduct – Emotional Misconduct includes any act or conduct (e.g., psychological abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse, child abuse) that can be described as emotional abuse under applicable federal or state law.

B. Physical Misconduct

Any contact or non-contact conduct that causes or reasonably threatens to cause physical harm to another person.

1. Contact violations – Punching, beating, biting, striking, choking or slapping another; intentionally hitting another with objects, such as sporting equipment; encouraging or knowingly permitting an Athlete to return to play prematurely following a serious injury (e.g., a concussion) and without the clearance of a medical professional.

2. Non-contact violations –  Isolating a person in a confined space, such as locking an Athlete in a small space; forcing an Athlete to assume a painful stance or position for no athletic purpose (e.g., requiring an athlete to kneel on a harmful surface); withholding, recommending against, or denying adequate hydration, nutrition, medical attention or sleep; providing alcohol to a person under the U.S. legal drinking age; providing illegal drugs or non-prescribed medications to another.

3. Criminal conduct – Physical misconduct includes any act or conduct described as physical abuse or misconduct under federal or state law (e.g. child abuse, child neglect, assault).

4. Exclusion – Physical misconduct does not include professionally accepted coaching methods of skill enhancement, physical conditioning, team building, appropriate discipline or improved athlete performance. For example, hitting, punching and kicking are well-regulated forms of contact in combat sports but have no place in swimming.

C. Sexual Misconduct

Contact and non-contact behaviors of a sexual nature.

1. Contact behaviors of a sexual nature – Any intentional bodily contact of a sexual nature, however slight, whether clothed or unclothed, of a person’s intimate body parts with any object or body part up to and including a completed or attempted penetration.

a. Sexual Contact – Sexual contact is (a) any intentional bodily contact, however slight, whether clothed or unclothed, of a person’s intimate body parts (primarily genital area, groin, inner thigh, buttock or breast) with any object or body part and/or (b) any other intentional bodily contact in a sexual manner.

b. Sexual Intercourse – Sexual intercourse is (a) a completed or attempted penetration of the vulva or anus by a penis, object, tongue or finger; and/or (b) contact between the mouth and the penis, vulva or anus.

2. Non-contact behaviors of a sexual nature – Non-contact behaviors of a sexual nature include (a)exposure to sexual situations (e.g., pornography, voyeurism, exhibitionism); (b) sexual comments, sexually explicit photographs; or (c) filming, taking or disseminating photographs of a sexual nature.

a. Exploitation – Non-contact behavior of a sexual nature includes Exploitation (taking sexual advantage of another to benefit or gratify one’s self or any person other than the person or persons being exploited). Exploitation includes, but is not limited to (a) voyeurism or spying on persons engaged in intimate or sexual behavior, (b) exposing genitals or inducing another person to expose his or her genitals without Consent, (c) taking pictures or video or audio recordings of another in a sexual act or in any other private activity, without the Consent of all involved in the activity, or (d) disseminating or threatening to disseminate pictures, video recordings or audio recordings of another person in a sexual act or any other private activity.

D. Bullying

Repeated and/or severe (a) aggressive behavior (b) among Minors,1 (c) that is intended or likely to hurt, control or diminish another person emotionally, physically or sexually.

1. Forms

a. Physical – Hitting, pushing, punching, beating, biting, striking, kicking, choking, spitting or slapping; throwing objects such as sporting equipment at another person.

b. Verbal – Teasing, ridiculing, taunting, name-calling or intimidating or threatening to cause someone harm.

c. Social, including cyberbullying – Using rumors or false statements about someone to diminish that person’s reputation; using electronic communications, social media or other technology to harass, frighten, intimidate or humiliate someone; socially excluding someone and asking others to do the same.

d. Sexual – Teasing, ridiculing or taunting based on gender or sexual orientation (real or implied), gender traits or behavior (e.g., taunting someone for being too effeminate), or teasing someone about their looks or behavior as it relates to sexual attractiveness.

2. Rude, mean and conflict-distinguished

Conduct may not rise to the level of Bullying Behavior if it is rude (inadvertently saying or doing something hurtful), mean (purposefully saying or doing something hurtful, but not as part of a pattern of behavior), or arising from conflict or struggle between persons, absent a Power Imbalance, who perceive they have incompatible goals.

3. Criminal conduct – Bullying Behavior includes any conduct described as bullying under federal or state law.

E. Hazing

Any conduct that subjects another person, whether physically, mentally, emotionally or psychologically, to anything that may endanger, abuse, humiliate, degrade or intimidate the person as a condition of joining or being socially accepted by a group, team or organization.  Purported Consent by the person subject to Hazing is not a defense, regardless of the person’s perceived willingness to cooperate or participate.

1. Examples

Examples of Hazing include:

a. Contact acts – Tying, taping or otherwise physically restraining another person; beating, paddling or other forms of physical assault.

b. Non-contact acts – Requiring or forcing the consumption of alcohol, illegal drugs or other substances in an effort to elicit a negative physiological response, including participation in binge drinking and drinking games; personal servitude; requiring social actions (e.g., wearing inappropriate or provocative clothing) or public displays (e.g., public nudity) that are illegal or meant to draw ridicule; excessive training requirements demanded of only particular individuals on a team that serve no reasonable or productive training purpose; sleep deprivation; otherwise unnecessary schedule disruptions; withholding of water and/or food; restrictions on personal hygiene.

c. Sexualized acts – Actual or simulated Sexual Conduct of any nature.

2. Criminal acts – Any act or conduct that constitutes hazing under applicable federal or state law.

F. Harassment

Repeated and/or severe conduct that (a) causes fear, humiliation or annoyance, (b) offends or degrades, (c) creates a hostile environment, or (d) reflects discriminatory bias in an attempt to establish dominance, superiority or power over an individual athlete or group based on age, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, national origin, or mental or physical disability; or (e) any act or conduct described as harassment under federal or state law. Whether conduct is harassing depends on the totality of the circumstances, including the nature, frequency, intensity, location, context and duration of the behavior.

1. Forms

Harassment, which may be a form of Emotional, Physical or Sexual Misconduct, includes but is not limited to:

a. Discriminatory Harassment – Conduct with the design or effect of establishing dominance, superiority or power over an individual or group based on age, sex, race, color, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, or mental or physical disability.

b. Stalking – Conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others, or to suffer substantial emotional distress. Stalking generally involves a course of conduct which includes two or more acts, involving persistent and frequent unwanted in person contact, surveillance or unwanted telephone and/or other electronic contact.

i. Examples

Stalking behaviors include without limitation: following a person; appearing at a person’s home, class, work or practice; frequent phone calls, emails, or text messages; continuing to contact a person after receiving requests to stop; leaving unwanted written messages, objects or gifts; vandalizing a person’s property; threatening, intimidating or intrusive behavior; and violating a lawful order preventing contact with a person.

c. Sexual Harassment – Conduct by a Covered Adult toward an Athlete or other non-employee, Non-athlete Participant that includes (a) sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical behaviors of a sexual nature; or (b) is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive and objectively offensive that it negatively affects an individual’s performance.

How To Report

There are a few option for you to choose from when reporting a violation to either SafeSport or USA Gymnastics.

For any violation that falls under SEXUAL MISCONUCT, this should be reported to the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

To report a violation to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, you can choose from any one of the following;

  • Telephone: 720-524-5640
  • Online: SafeSport.org
  • Mail: U.S. Center for SafeSport, C/O Response & Resolution Office, 1385 South Colorado Boulevard, Suite A-706, Denver, CO 80222

For all other violations (EMOTIONAL MISCONDUCT, PHYSICAL MISCONDUCT, BULLYING, HAZING, or HARRASSMENT) contact USA Gymnastics.

Reports of violations non-sexual in nature can be submitted to USA Gymnastics by;

  • Telephone: 1-800-345-4719
  • Email: safesport@usagym.org
  • Mail: USA Gymnastics, Attn: SafeSport, 130 E. Washington Street, Suite 700, Indianapolis, IN 46204

The following statement is posted on USA Gymnastics website;

Reporting to the Center and/or USA Gymnastics DOES NOT satisfy any legal reporting requirements under state or federal law. If the suspected conduct may also be criminal, you are strongly encouraged to report to law enforcement. For state-by-state reporting requirements, see www.childwelfare.gov.

Photo: ie.reahout.com

Confidentiality and Privacy

You can make a report to either SafeSport or USA Gymnastics anonymously.

This will protect your identity but it will not protect the information that you provide to them.  But understand that an anonymous report may limit the scope of the investigation performed by SafeSport or USA Gymnastics and their response to the complaint.

An individual may ask that the details of a report be kept confidential with SafeSport and USA Gymnastics.

When reporting to SafeSport, the reporting party can then speak to the USOC’s Athlete Ombudsman’s Office.  They will review with the reporting party the criteria for confidentiality which can be, per the SafeSport Code, “…limited by mandatory reporting requirements, including cases of immediate threat or danger, or abuse of a Minor.”

A reporting party of sexual misconduct may ask that their identity be kept confidential, that an investigation not occur, and a resolution not to take place.  In this case, if SafeSport or USA Gymnastics can honor the request, they will not take any action.

But per the SafeSport Code, “In cases indicating pattern, predation, threat, use of weapons and/or violence, the Office will likely be unable to honor a request for confidentiality.”

USA Gymnastics agrees,  “Because of legal reporting requirements, USA Gymnastics cannot guarantee confidentiality in misconduct/grievance matters.  However, USA Gymnastics will treat such matters with as much confidentiality as is possible under the circumstances and with the sensitivity they deserve.”

Information submitted to SafeSport or USA gymnastics will only be shared with investigators, witnesses, and with the individual who allegedly violated the Code, as necessary.

The name of the person making a report to SafeSport of Sexual Misconduct will not be given to USA Gymnastics unless it is necessary to the case.

SafeSport will have to perform the following in cases of Sexual Misconduct;

  1. Contact USA Gymnastics
    1. Notify them that a Covered Individual from their membership may have violated the Code
    2. If the Office seeks an interim measure
    3. If an investigation occurs
    4. Findings from a report and if any sanctions have been implemented

“The health and well-being of our athletes is of the highest priority, and member misconduct matters are handled in a confidential manner.  These reports will be handled, as are all others, in accordance with the rules, polices and guidelines of USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Center for SafeSport.” explains USA Gymnastics.

Failure to Report

What if I witnessed a violation and I do not report it?

The SafeSport Code states that any one or more of the following sanctions can be suggested or applied to anyone who does not report a violation;

  1. Written warning
  2. Educational or behavioral programs
  3. Loss of privileges
  4. Probation
  5. Suspension or other eligibility restrictions, up to and including permanent ineligibility

Retaliation

Photo: Ken Gonzalez

USA Gymnastics firmly believes that retaliation is not acceptable.

In addition, the SafeSport Code reads, “Retaliation by a Covered Individual against a person for making an allegation, supporting a Reporting Party or providing information relevant to an allegation is a serious violation of the Code.”

If retaliation occurs due to filing a report of:

  • Sexual Misconduct –
    • Immediately contact the U.S. Center for SafeSport
  • Emotional Misconduct, Physical Misconduct, Bullying, Hazing, or Harassment –
    • Immediately contact USA Gymnastics

Sanctions

If a Covered Individual is found guilty of a code violation after a thorough investigation, they can receive any one or any combination of the following sanctions;

  1. Written warning
  2. Educational or behavioral programs
  3. Loss of privileges
  4. Probation
  5. Suspension or other eligibility restrictions, up to and including permanent ineligibility

As of March 3, 2017, the U.S. Center for SafeSport will keep a searchable database of all individuals who have had either their eligibility restricted or suspended.

Those individuals who have been found guilty of a violation and had a sanction imposed on them will be monitored.

USA Gymnastics explains, “This [monitoring] really depends on the nature and type of the sanction, which is based on the infraction.  Information on discipline typically is shared, at a minimum, with the member’s gym club owner and/or the state and regional chairs. If membership is terminated, the member’s name will be added to the list of individuals permanently ineligible for membership.”

Conclusion

“Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”                  – Nelson Mandela

Resources: usagym.org, safesport.org, USA Gymnastics, SafeSport Code

RELATED ARTICLES:

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

Protecting Gymnasts From Predators – Part 1

Protecting Gymnasts From Predators – Part 2

Protecting Gymnasts From Predators – Part 3

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