Sen. Cortez Masto questions U.S. Olympic Athletes during a Commerce Subcommittee hearing.
Washington, D.C. – In today’s Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security hearing, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) met with Olympic athletes who are survivors of sexual abuse. Cortez Masto requested this hearing in the wake of revelations that generations of young athletes had been subject to sexual abuse as they moved through the Olympic system. The Senator is also working with her colleagues to hold additional oversight hearings and compel representatives from U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) to testify before the committee.
This hearing provided a forum for survivors to discuss specific concerns and challenges they face working to prevent abuse in their respective sports. The athletes also had the opportunity to provide lawmakers with feedback related to the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017. This legislation, cosponsored by Cortez Masto and which was recently signed into law, authorizes an independent entity to investigate and prevent abuse.
Cortez Masto’s questioning focused on the need for athlete advocates who are not beholden to or employed by the Olympic governing bodies. She asked the witnesses for their feedback on a proposal that would appoint advocates tasked exclusively with representing the concerns of child athletes.
“First of all let me say thank you to the Chairman for holding this hearing today. I know Senator Lee and I and a number of committee members had requested this so we appreciate the conversation today. And then I want to thank you all of you for being here. Your voices will make that change. Your voices will make a difference and help others,” said Cortez Masto.
“Prior to coming to the Senate, I spent ten years as a prosecutor working to protect children from sexual predators. What I have seen and heard here today is a system failure that has allowed these predators to thrive. In my experience, I have found that we can prevent child abuse if we have an advocate working within the system. Somebody who is there with the athletes. Somebody who athletes can become familiar with, knowing that this person is somebody who is going to advocate on their behalf,” Cortez Masto continued.
Cortez Masto concluded her statement by asking: “Do you think if we were looking at implementing and working with the USOC to appoint child advocates to work within the system, that that would be helpful and would have helped you and would help other children coming through the amateur sports to help them address their needs?
Jordyn Wieber, Gymnast and Olympic Gold Medalist replied, “I absolutely think that’s necessary. With USA gymnastics we had an athlete representative who was also on the selection committee so she was supposed to be our advocate but she was also the one deciding whether we made the team. So even if she would be there to advocate for us we didn’t want to tell her anything, we were scared it was going to ruin our chances, which we know it probably would have. So I feel very strongly that that has to be someone who is not on the selection committee who is totally on the athletes’ side and that’s their main role, making sure that we can trust them and that they’ll stand up for us.”
Cortez Masto has been working as an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse for over two decades, first as a federal prosecutor and later as Attorney General of Nevada.
Cortez Masto is a co-sponsor of the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act of 2017, a law that amends the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990 to extend the duty to report suspected child abuse, including sexual abuse, to certain adults who are authorized to interact with minor or amateur athletes at a facility under the jurisdiction of a national governing body. This bill was signed into law in February 14, 2018.
Cortez Masto is also a cosponsor of a resolution to establish a special committee in the Senate to investigate the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and USA Gymnastics regarding how team doctor Larry Nassar was allowed to sexually abuse female gymnasts over decades.
This past January, she and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) sent a bipartisan letter to Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) urging them to hold today’s hearing.