Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that today we are voting on S. 534, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017. This important legislation protects child athletes from both sexual and physical abuse.
Over the past year, the Nation was horrified to learn of the decades of abuse that occurred within USA Gymnastics by Dr. Larry ‘‘Lecherous’’ Nassar. The middle name was added by me, Mr. Speaker. Last week, Nassar was sentenced to between 40 and 175 years’ incarceration after pleading guilty to several counts of sexual assault.
Over 150 women and girls gave victim impact statements. How a serial predator like Dr. Nassar could have preyed on so many young girls for such a long time in such a flagrant fashion is appalling.
Our amateur gymnasts were failed. They were failed by the very people who are supposed to protect them and do no harm, as doctors are supposed to do.
In the past weeks, we have not only seen Dr. Nassar brought to justice, but we have also seen many others held accountable for their roles of commission and omission associated with these atrocities. Though we are glad to see justice finally served in this case, we must take appropriate measures to prevent this from occurring again.
This bill will do that. Under current law, the Victims of Child Abuse Act requires persons engaged in certain activities and professions on Federal lands or in Federal facilities to report child abuse.
Failure to report could subject such persons to criminal penalties. This bill expands these mandatory reporting requirements to adults working at national governing boards, that is, amateur sports organizations recognized by the United States Olympic Committee, such as USA Gymnastics or USA Tennis, or at sanctioned events.
The bill also charters a new organization called Safe Sport, tasked with preventing child abuse within the national governing bodies through education and handling reports of misconduct. Safe Sport will assure these national governing bodies abide by such policies and procedures to assure that predators like Dr. Nassar will never again be permitted to terrorize young athletes with impunity.
I would like to thank Mrs. BROOKS of Indiana for her hard work on this issue and for assembling a bipartisan team of cosponsors. Protecting our young people, including those who have sacrificed so much to represent the United States, such as Olympic athletes, is and should be a bipartisan undertaking.
I commend my colleagues for their support, and I urge them to vote in favor of S. 534. Mr. Speaker, I have 133 victim impact statements of young women that were made at this sentencing, and I want to read just a few phrases from some of these strong athletes who had the courage to come forward and tell what Dr. Nassar did to them.
The first one is from Donna Markham. Donna’s daughter Chelsey was an athlete under the supervision of Nassar.
She could not give a victim impact statement, and here is why, according to her mother, Donna: ‘‘In 2009, she took her own life. She couldn’t deal with the pain anymore. Every day I miss her. It all started with him.’’ Danielle Moore: ‘‘I hope being reduced to a prison number’’—she is talking to Nassar—‘‘will define you as it defined me for so many years. I will no longer be known as a number, and I will be Dr. Danielle Moore.’’
Megan Halicek: ‘‘As I stand here, I still flash back to the feelings of fear, laying frozen in his office, my sweating, shaking body, adrenaline pumping, painfully clutching the sides of the table, waiting for the sick treatment to be over.’’
Gwen Anderson: ‘‘I still remember him saying, ‘It’s okay. I know you’re not used to being touched there, but it will feel better.’’
And here is what Gwen’s coach had to say, Thomas Brennan: ‘‘For the record, go to hell. . . . What you did to everyone else who trusted you and sent girls your way is disgusting, reprehensible, unforgivable.’’
Mr. Speaker, Amanda Barterian said this at the sentencing hearing: ‘‘I refuse to let Larry Nassar take anything more from here. He has already taken enough.’’ Nicole Walker said this at the sentencing hearing: ‘‘I have anxiety and sleep disorders all because of what you’’—Nassar—‘‘did to me.’’
Mr. Speaker, Katherine Gordon said this at the sentencing: ‘‘Sexual assault is distant until you realize each girl in the news is a broken mirror.’’
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentlewoman from Texas, not only for her support of the legislation, but also for her long-time working on these issues of victims of crime, and her involvement in legislation in the past and in the future on matters such as this. This is not a happy event, Mr. Speaker.
This legislation, as Mr. Bishop said, it is unfortunate that Congress had to get involved in this issue. Congress is going to get involved, and we are going to try to rectify the problems of the past and hold people accountable for crimes in the future.
We are talking about the symbol of everything that is good, and right, and beautiful about America: these Olympics, the Olympians, and particularly the gymnasts who represent America; the training they go through; the zeal for which they represent our country and work. Yet, while all of that was going on, bad things were happening to them.
Our gymnasts who just participated in the last Olympics, who won medals, gold medals, they endured abuse, yet they went forward to represent our country in the United States Olympics. People who harm those girls and other athletes, male and female, they need to be held accountable, not just Larry Nassar, but other people need to be held accountable.
This is where law enforcement needs to be involved. Mr. Speaker, I am a former judge, and I want to commend the judge in this case, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, for allowing all of these victims to testify in open court.
They had the courage to come forward and tell very difficult things, things that are difficult for us to even listen to here on the House floor. They said it, and they wanted the criminal to know what he had done to them impacted them.
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the judge for allowing that, but also the sentence that she imposed. I want to read a few more of the statements, Mr. Speaker: Jessica Rodriguez: ‘‘USA Gymnastics should be held accountable for each and every one of these acts of abuse they allowed to happen.’’
Taryn Look: ‘‘I was still a child. . . . I wanted to end my life.’’ Mattie Larson: ‘‘I was at the height of my career at 19, and the Olympics were just a year away, and I just couldn’t take any more of the abuse. I was broken. Larry, my coaches, and USA Gymnastics turned a sport I fell in love with as a kid to my personal living hell.’’
Mr. Speaker, all of these brave Americans came forward and testified about what had happened to them. And we should—they are all Olympians for that.
They all deserve the gold medal for what they did representing our country and their strength and their courage to testify in open court about what happened to them. The defendant, the convicted criminal, wrote a letter to the judge, Mr. Speaker, saying he couldn’t take all of this abuse against him for having to listen to all of the statements by the victims.
Are you kidding me? He is not the victim.
He is the criminal, and he belongs in jail. He belongs in jail, as these victims have said, for the rest of his life, to keep him away from little girls.
And I am glad that that is where he is going, but he is not a victim. Because of the mental abuse that he caused on victims of crime, he needs to remember what he has done.
And I am glad that we have finally got this legislation passed in such a quick method. It is proof, Mr. Speaker, that we can work pretty fast, we also can work in a bipartisan manner, and we can also work with the Senate getting legislation that is important to America passed.
Mr. Speaker, here is what Natalie Woodland said: ‘‘I am strong, and I am beautiful, and I am bold, and no one, especially you’’— Nassar—‘‘can take that away from me. . . . While standing up here, I’m finally realizing that I’m not alone.’’ And she is not alone.
We are on her side. We should be on the side of victims of crime, and this legislation will promote a better atmosphere: a lawful, good atmosphere for our gymnasts and other athletes to work in.
The people who committed these crimes need to be held accountable, and society has started with the first culprit, Larry ‘‘Lecherous’’ Nassar, and there should be more to follow.
And that is just the way it is, Mr. Speaker.