GAO REPORT ABOUT SWIM CLUB ATHLETE SEX ABUSE

“Recent reports about the abuse of student-athletes participating in public and private swim clubs have raised a number of new concerns about whether we have adequate laws and policies in place to prevent and address such abuse,” Miller wrote in his letter to the GAO.

“Accordingly, I write today to supplement my July 2012 request to include information about the prevalence of abuse among student-athletes and the manner in which such abuse cases are reported, investigated and resolved.”

“Fueled by the sex-abuse scandal involving a former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach, Miller asked the GAO in the summer of 2012 to examine whether existing laws adequately prevent child abuse in K-12 schools or on college campuses. Most states have clear laws requiring K-12 teachers and other school employees to report suspicions of abuse to police, experts told my colleagues Nirvi Shah and Lesli Maxwell in the aftermath of the Penn State scandal, but many suspicions still end up going unreported.

“Mary Jo McGrath, an education lawyer in Santa Barbara, Calif., told Nirvi and Lesli that some school personnel go through a period of denial after learning about sex-abuse allegations, because “what they are confronted with is so horrific and so outside their perception of what is possible.”

In Miller’s latest letter to the GAO, he notes that child-protection laws “are not specifically directed toward student-athletes and their participation in athletic clubs,” which raises questions about the situations in which abuse allegations must be reported. He specifically cited Rick Curl, the founder of a Washington-based swim club, who signed a nondisclosure agreement with a youth swimmer back in 1989 after being accused of molesting her. Curl was sentenced last month to seven years in prison for his sexual abuse of that swimmer, according to The Washington Post.

Miller requests that the GAO address five questions in its investigation:
• The prevalence of sexual and other abuse among student-athletes participating in athletic clubs;
• How incidences of abuse that occur on school property are reported, investigated, and resolved;
• How athletic clubs report, investigate, and resolve incidents of alleged sexual or other abuse, including what responsibilities apply to the club’s leadership, coaches, and staff;
• What policies and procedures are in place to prevent and deter child-sex abuse among student-atheletes; and
• How conflicts between mandatory child-abuse reporting laws and the rules and regulations governing athletic clubs are identified and resolved.
This new line of investigation would be folded into the GAO’s ongoing investigation of child-abuse-reporting laws, according to a statement from Miller.
[House Ed. Leader Wants GAO to Examine Student-Athlete Sex Abuse By Bryan Toporek on June 20, 2013 3:43 PM by Bryan Toporek. Schooled in Sports blog]

Because Rep Miller retired, the report was sent to Rep Jackie Speier.
THE REPORT: United States Government Accountability Office GAO-15-418 May 2015 to the Honorable Jackie Speier, House of Representatives

YOUTH ATHLETES Sports Programs’ Guidance, Practices, and Policies to Help Prevent and Respond to Sexual Abuse
Highlights of GAO-15-418, a report to the Honorable Jackie Speier, House of Representatives

“Although states are primarily responsible for addressing abuse, federal laws may apply, such as those that prohibit sex discrimination, including sexual abuse, in federally-funded education programs, require reports of campus crimes, and set minimum standards for state child abuse reporting laws. GAO was asked to review efforts to prevent and respond to the sexual abuse of youth athletes under age 18.

Why GAO Did This Study

Media reports of the sexual abuse of youth athletes by their coaches have raised questions about how athletic organizations protect against such abuse. Research shows that the power dynamic between coaches and athletes aiming for high performance makes those athletes uniquely vulnerable to abuse.

GAO examined (1) the role of federal agencies in preventing and responding to sexual abuse of youth athletes, and (2) steps selected athletic programs aimed at high performance take to prevent and respond to such abuse.

GAO reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, guidance, and literature; visited a non-generalizable sample of 11 athletic programs in three states selected on factors including sport popularity, gender participation, and geographic diversity; and interviewed federal agencies, relevant associations, and experts.

What GAO Recommends

GAO makes no recommendations in this report. Education, HHS, and Justice provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate.

What GAO Found

Several federal agencies have roles in preventing and responding to the sexual abuse of a broad population of youth under age 18, which may include youth athletes. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a nonprofit organization that receives Department of Justice (Justice) funding, published suggested practices for preventing child sexual abuse in youth-serving organizations.

These suggested practices include defining and prohibiting misconduct; screening staff using fingerprint-based criminal background checks and other tools; and training staff on how to recognize, report, and respond to abuse. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also makes available information on child protection policies in youth sports settings, such as defining appropriate coach athlete relationships.

In addition, Justice may investigate alleged youth athlete abuse if there is a possibility the case constitutes a federal crime. These efforts may apply to youth in a range of settings. In addition, the Departments of Education (Education) and Justice oversee compliance with a civil rights law that protects individuals from sex discrimination, including sexual abuse, at schools that receive federal funding, which would generally include youth participating in sports camps on university campuses.

Education also oversees postsecondary school compliance with a federal law requiring reporting of crimes, including sex offenses, that occur on or near campus. To ensure schools are meeting their obligations under these laws, Education and Justice conduct compliance reviews and investigations, and Justice participates in federal litigation involving claims of sex discrimination. Education also provides guidance and training to schools in areas such as developing codes of conduct, offering prevention and awareness training, and establishing reporting procedures.

The 11 athletic programs GAO reviewed all reported using methods, such as screening and training staff, to help prevent and respond to the sexual abuse of youth athletes. For example, the selected athletic programs, which included 8 private athletic clubs and 3 universities operating youth sports camps, allreported using name-based background checks to screen staff members for a criminal history.

Two universities that operated sports camps reported they sometimes used fingerprint-based checks, while officials from other athletic programs cited the high cost of fingerprint checks as a barrier. Training for athletic staff in the programs GAO visited included how to identify signs of, respond to, and report suspected incidents of sexual abuse. Policies for all of these athletic programs also require staff to report suspected abuse to law enforcement. Further, the selected programs had response policies that generally included removing the suspected offender from the program and conducting their own investigations, which could result in lifetime bans from the program.

Athletic programs’ policies also included a variety of possible disciplinary actions, such as warning letters or required leave, for addressing inappropriate behavior that falls short of sexual abuse. Some of these policies have been created or revised in recent years, including the policies that private athletic clubs are implementing based on the United States Olympic Committee’s athlete safety program, SafeSport, which prohibits various forms of misconduct, including child sexual abuse. GAO did not assess the effectiveness of any of the selected athletic programs’ policies.

May 29, 2015
The Honorable Jackie Speier
House of Representatives

“Dear Congresswoman Speier:

“Media coverage on and academic research of the sexual abuse of youth athletes by their coaches has raised questions about the type of approaches and policies youth-focused athletic organizations use to protect children from potential abuse. In many cases, youth athletes have positive interactions with their coaches and gain important leadership skills and self-confidence through their participation in sports. However, reports of sexual abuse, misconduct, and inappropriate relationships between coaches and athletes have occurred across a variety of sports, gender interactions, and settings, with some resulting in convictions of coaches of one or more sexual offenses.1

As research has shown, child sexual abuse often has significant detrimental consequences to children’s physical, psychological, academic, and behavioral development.2 Little is known about the prevalence of sexual abuse of youth athletes in the United States However, research has highlighted the specific ways in which athletes have been “groomed” by coaches—a set of behaviors that perpetrators carry out to establish trust and later facilitate sexual activity with a child.3 Research also indicates that the power dynamics between coaches and athletes aiming for high performance make those athletes uniquely vulnerable to abuse due, in part, to the high risk, high reward
environment in which they compete and the position of power held by coaches who play critical roles in ensuring their success.

Page 2 GAO-15-418 Abuse of Youth Athletes 4 Among the different settings where such incidents can occur are youth sports camps held on college and university campuses and private athletic clubs targeting high athletic performance, such as Olympic-level training clubs for athletes who display competitive excellence in their sport. 5 States have the primary role in ensuring the safety of their citizens;6
however, federal law establishes minimum standards for state mandatory reporting laws regarding suspected child abuse and neglect, including sexual abuse.7 Athletic programs must comply with any applicable state requirements regarding mandatory reporting, which can vary from state to state, and programs may be subject to other requirements, depending on their setting. For example, postsecondary schools 8 are required to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), which prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual harassment and abuse, in federally-funded education programs and activities,9 and the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act), which requires postsecondary schools that receive federal student aid funding to report certain crimes that occur on and around their campuses.

Page 3 GAO-15-418 Abuse of Youth Athletes 10 You and former Representative George Miller, in his role as Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, expressed interest in learning more about efforts made by federal agencies and athletic programs to prevent and respond to the sexual abuse of youth athletes under the age of 18. Our review addresses the following questions for athletic programs aimed at developing high performing athletes:11 1. What role do federal agencies play in preventing and responding to the sexual abuse of youth participating in these programs? 2. What steps do selected athletic programs take to prevent and respond to the sexual abuse of youth athletes? To perform this work, we used a variety of approaches.

To understand what role federal agencies play in preventing and responding to the sexual abuse of youth athletes under age 18, we reviewed relevantfederal laws and regulations as well as relevant agency documents, such as guidance and procedures for conducting compliance reviews. We interviewed officials from the Departments of Education (Education), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Justice (Justice).

We also interviewed relevant experts on coaching, athletics administration, and sexual abuse, and officials from a range of relevant organizations, including youth sport and education associations; victim advocacy groups; the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA); the United States Olympic Committee (USOC); and the USOC’s national governing bodies (NGB) for the selected private athletic programs of figure skating, hockey, and swimming, and four of their regional affiliates.12 We also reviewed relevant literature from these groups. To gather information on how selected athletic programs address the sexual abuse of youth athletes, we conducted site visits to a nongeneralizable sample of athletic programs in three states—California, Florida, and Texas. Page 4 GAO-15-418 Abuse of Youth Athletes 13 We interviewed representatives of and reviewed documentation for a total of 11 athletic programs, which included 3 universities that operate youth sports camps14 and 8 local private athletic clubs. States and athletic programs were selected based on criteria including popularity of sport among youth, college rankings in selected sports, gender participation, and geographic diversity.

We gathered information about the relevant policies and procedures selected athletic programs have designed for screening staff and volunteers, education and awareness training, monitoring and supervision, reporting of complaints, responding to complaints, and imposing sanctions.15 We also reviewed training materials on the subject of youth protection. For more information on our scope and methodology, see appendix I. We conducted this performance audit from February 2014 to May 2015 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on the audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonabke basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.”

See the entire report: http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/670779.pdf

References:
Government probe of sex abuse prevention in Olympic sports went nowhere, By Will Hobson February 20 2016, Washington Post [Government probe of sex abuse prevention in Olympic sports went nowhere, By Will Hobson February 20 2016, Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/government-probe-of-sex-abuse-prevention-in-olympic-sports-went-nowhere/2017/02/20/75c8b0a6-d287-11e6-9cb0-54ab630851e8_story.html?utm_term=.01e179cedcb5 ]

GAO Report May 29, 2015 [YOUTH ATHLETES: Sports Programs’ Guidance, Practices, and Policies to Help Prevent and Respond to Sexual Abuse, GAO-15-418: Published: May 29, 2015. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 2015. Government Accountability Office http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-418 ]

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GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE RESPONSE TO SCHOOL PERSONNEL SEXUAL ABUSE, Related Report

Rep. George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the House education committee, called Tuesday for the Government Accountability Office to investigate the prevalence of sexual and other abuse among student-athletes.

Child Welfare: Federal Agencies Can Better Support State Efforts to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Abuse by School Personnel. [GAO-14-42: Published: Jan 27, 2014. Publicly Released: Jan 30, 2014]

What GAO Found

“To help prevent the sexual abuse of students in public K-12 schools, 46 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia surveyed by GAO required background checks of applicants–such as teachers or bus drivers–seeking public school employment; however, the methods and sources varied widely. Forty-two states established professional standards or codes of conduct for school personnel, and 22 of those included information on appropriate boundaries between personnel and students.

“Although experts view awareness and prevention training on sexual abuse and misconduct as another key prevention tool, only 18 states reported in the survey that they require school districts to provide this training. However, two of six districts GAO visited provided training to school personnel, volunteers, and students in response to prior allegations of sexual misconduct by school personnel. These trainings covered a variety of topics, including recognizing the signs of abuse and misconduct.

“According to GAO’s survey, 46 states have laws that require school personnel to report child sexual abuse and designate the agency that investigates reports (local law enforcement and/or child protective services (CPS)), and 43 establish penalties for not reporting. In addition, school districts may have their own policies, which can sometimes create challenges. For example, three of the six school districts GAO visited have policies requiring suspected sexual abuse or misconduct to be reported to school administrators.

“Local investigative officials reported that such policies can be confusing, as they imply reports should only be made to school officials. This can result in a failure to report to the proper law enforcement or CPS authorities and interfere with investigations. For example, in one case study GAO reviewed, administrators pled guilty to failure to report suspected sexual abuse of a student by a teacher, who was later convicted of ten counts of abuse. Further, state and local officials told GAO that because different agencies can be involved with investigating reports of alleged child sexual abuse or misconduct for different reasons, each of the agencies’ particular goals may lead to potential interference with another agency’s investigation. In three of the four states GAO visited, law enforcement and CPS had developed methods, such as memorandums of understanding, to minimize this potential conflict and share information and expertise to resolve cases.

“Relevant programs at the Departments of Education (Education), Health and Human Services (HHS) and Justice (Justice) have supported state and local efforts to address sexual abuse by school personnel through limited training, guidance on boundary setting, and funding for collaboration among entities responding to allegations. Federal internal controls state that agencies should ensure there are adequate means of communicating with and obtaining information from external stakeholders who have a significant impact on agency goals. Yet, more than 30 of the states that GAO surveyed were not aware of available federal resources. No single agency is leading this effort, and coordination among federal agencies to leverage their resources and disseminate information to assist state and local efforts is limited. Further, the prevalence of this type of abuse is not known. Although several federal agencies collect related data, none systematically identify the extent of sexual abuse by school personnel, and efforts to address this data gap are limited. Finally, Education’s regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) require schools to have procedures in place to protect students from sexual abuse by school personnel. However, local officials told GAO that Education’s guidance was limited and they are unsure about how to apply these requirements to cases of adult-to-student sexual abuse in K-12 settings.

Why GAO Did This Study

“While all child abuse is troubling, sexual abuse by school personnel raises particular concerns because of the trust placed in schools. Federal laws prohibit sexual harassment, including sexual abuse, in federally funded education programs and set minimum standards for state laws on reporting suspected child abuse.

“GAO was asked to review efforts to address child sexual abuse by school personnel. GAO examined: (1) states’ and school districts’ steps to help prevent such abuse, (2) their reporting requirements and approaches for investigating allegations, and (3) federal agencies’ efforts to address such abuse. GAO reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance; surveyed state educational agencies in 50 states and the District of Columbia; and visited four states and six of their districts. States were selected based on actions taken in response to past allegations of abuse. GAO interviewed state agencies, school districts, local law enforcement and child protective service agencies, and experts identified through a systematic literature review.

What GAO Recommends

“GAO recommends that Education collaborate with HHS and Justice to compile and disseminate information to states; identify a way to track the prevalence of sexual abuse; and that Education also clarify and disseminate information on how Title IX applies to personnel-to-student sexual abuse in the K-12 setting. Education and HHS provided technical comments and Education concurred with our recommendations. Justice had no comments.

For more information, contact Kay Brown at (202) 512-7215 or brownke@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

“Recommendation: In order to help inform federal, state, and local initiatives to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse by school personnel, the Secretary of Education should lead an effort, in collaboration with the Secretary of HHS and the Attorney General, to leverage resources, expertise, and capacities across the departments to develop a comprehensive package of materials for states, districts, and schools that outlines steps that can be taken to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse by school personnel. For example, this could include compiling, assessing, and enhancing existing guidance, training materials, grant opportunities, and other resources.

Agency Affected: Department of Education

“Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

“Recommendation: In order to help inform federal, state, and local initiatives to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse by school personnel, the Secretary of Education should lead an effort, in collaboration with the Secretary of HHS and the Attorney General, to leverage resources, expertise, and capacities across the departments to determine the most cost-effective way to disseminate federal information so that relevant state and local educational agencies, child welfare agencies, and criminal justice entities are aware of and have access to it.

Agency Affected: Department of Education

“Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

“Recommendation: In order to help inform federal, state, and local initiatives to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse by school personnel, the Secretary of Education should lead an effort, in collaboration with the Secretary of HHS and the Attorney General, to leverage resources, expertise, and capacities across the departments to identify mechanisms to better track and analyze the prevalence of child sexual abuse by school personnel through existing federal data collection systems, such as the School Survey on Crime and Safety, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, and the National Crime Victimization Survey.

Agency Affected: Department of Education

“Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

“Recommendation: To help ensure that Title IX requirements to prevent and address sexual harassment, including sexual abuse and misconduct by school personnel against students, are carried out appropriately at public K-12 schools, the Secretary of Education should clarify and disseminate information on the roles and responsibilities of Title IX coordinators and more clearly emphasize that Title IX also applies to public K-12 schools and to cases involving school personnel-to-student sexual abuse and misconduct. For example, Education could update its existing Title IX guidance to specifically include information about adult-to-student sexual abuse and the applicability of Title IX to K-12 schools, examples of the types of behavior that may violate Title IX, and instructions on how to ensure school personnel can effectively carry out their responsibilities.

Agency Affected: Department of Education

“Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information

_________________________________________________________________

1992
“GAO found that: (1) studies show that child abuse prevention programs are effective, but future evaluations need to focus on what program works best under what circumstances; (2) prevention programs may pay for themselves by lowering the social costs resulting from child abuse; (3) it could not determine the amount of total federal funding for prevention programs because funds are scattered among many agencies and are not labelled as targeted to child abuse prevention; (4) federal child abuse prevention funding appears relatively low compared to federal expenditures for assistance to victims of abuse; (5) prevention programs have difficulty meeting their funding needs because grants are short-term and come from multiple sources, which increases the programs’ administrative costs; (6) efforts toward statewide coordination of prevention programs are hampered by a lack of resources; and (7) only one state has begun implementation of a statewide program, and another has developed plans to do so.
[GAO, Child Abuse: Prevention Programs Need Greater Emphasis
HRD-92-99: Published: Aug 3, 1992. Publicly Released: Aug 24, 1992.

__________________________________________________________________
2011
“Some of the problems highlighted by the GAO:
• Nearly half of states included data only from child welfare agencies in reporting maltreatment deaths to NCANDS. Yet not all children who die from maltreatment have had contact with these agencies, likely leading to incomplete counts due to lack of data from coroners’ offices, law enforcement agencies and other sources. One study cited by the GAO found that maltreatment deaths in three states were undercounted by 55 to 75 percent.
• HHS collects some information about maltreatment deaths, such as perpetrators’ previous abuse of children, yet does not report it. And the federally funded center for child death review does not synthesize or publish the detailed data that it collects from states about maltreatment deaths.
• At the local level, lack of medical evidence and inconsistent interpretations of maltreatment challenge investigators in determining whether a child’s death is caused by maltreatment. At the state level, limited coordination among jurisdictions and state agencies, in part due to confidentiality or privacy constraints, poses challenges for reporting data.
“According to the GAO, state officials said that better data on maltreatment deaths would enable them to craft more effective prevention strategies — comparable to already widespread efforts to curtail the problem known as shaken-baby syndrome.
“As a society, we should be doing everything in our collective power to end child deaths and near-deaths from maltreatment,” the report concluded. “The collection and reporting of comprehensive data on these tragic situations is an important step toward that goal.”
[The Associated Press, July 12, 2011, CBS News]

2011
What GAO Found
“More children have likely died from maltreatment than are counted in NCANDS,and HHS does not take full advantage of available information on the circumstances surrounding child maltreatment deaths. NCANDS estimated that1,770 children in the United States died from maltreatment in fiscal year 2009.
According to GAO’s survey, nearly half of states included data only from child welfare agencies in reporting child maltreatment fatalities to NCANDS, yet not all children who die from maltreatment have had contact with these agencies,possibly leading to incomplete counts. HHS also collects but does not report some information on the circumstances surrounding child maltreatment fatalities that could be useful for prevention, such as perpetrators’ previous maltreatmentof children. The National Center for Child Death Review (NCCDR), among governmental organization funded by HHS, collects more detailed data on circumstances from 39 states, but these data on child maltreatment deaths have not yet been synthesized or published.

“States face numerous challenges in collecting child maltreatment fatality data and reporting to NCANDS. At the local level, lack of evidence and inconsistent interpretations of maltreatment challenge investigators—such as law enforcement, medical examiners, and child welfare officials—in determining whether a child’s death was caused by maltreatment. Without medical evidence,it can be difficult to determine that a child’s death was caused by abuse or neglect, such as in cases of shaken baby syndrome, when external injuries maynot be readily visible. At the state level, limited coordination among jurisdictions and state agencies, in part due to confidentiality or privacy constraints, poses challenges for reporting data to NCANDS.General Process for Reporting Child Maltreatment Fatalities That Are Known to ChildProtective Service (CPS) Agencies to NCANDS Source: GAO analysis of site visit information.
Local CPS workers document child fatalities from maltreatmentLocal CPS submits details of those deaths to the state
State child welfare department collects and validates data1 2 3 State child welfare department sends data to NCANDS4

“HHS provides assistance to help states report child maltreatment fatalities,although states would like additional help. For example, HHS hosts an annual NCANDS technical assistance conference, provides individual state assistance,and, through NCCDR, has developed resources to help states collect information
on child deaths. However, there has been limited collaboration between HHS and NCCDR on child maltreatment fatality information or prevention strategies to date. State officials indicated a need for additional information on how to
oordinate across state agencies to collect more complete information on child maltreatment fatalities. States are also increasingly interested in collecting and View GAO-11-599 or key components. using information on near fatalities from maltreatment.
[GAO Highlights, CHILD MALTREATMENT, Strengthening National Data on Child Fatalities, Could Aid in Prevention, July 2011]