New US athlete protection group tells AP of reports of abuse
DENVER (AP) Only three weeks since opening its doors, the U.S. Center for SafeSport is investigating 21 cases involving sexual misconduct or abuse in Olympic sports.
The center's website offers a hotline and an online reporting form for those who have been victims of abuse or know of such cases.
In an interview with The Associated Press, CEO Shellie Pfohl (pronounced fole) said the early influx of reports might stem from people waiting for the center to open.
The organization operates independently from the U.S. Olympic Committee and organizations governing Olympic sports. The USOC and the 47 national governing bodies help fund the center - about $13.3 million over five years - but do not have any say over how it operates or the cases it investigates.
The center opened March 23 after a five-year fundraising and organization effort that began following a series of sex-abuse cases at USA Swimming.
More recently, USA Gymnastics has been the target of lawsuits alleging misconduct by coaches and a team doctor. Last month, the organization's CEO, Steve Penny, resigned under pressure after USAG was criticized for its handling of the cases.
Some of USA Gymnastics' troubles center on the timeline of when it learned about alleged abuse and when it reported the cases to the proper authorities.
Under the U.S. Center for SafeSport's rules, an NGB that receives information about such a case is required to immediately report to the center.
''What I think we're hearing and seeing really points to the need for an independent organization like'' ours, Pfohl said. ''We create a uniform set of codes and policies and procedures, so we're all working from the same book.''
Pfohl said the center has one full-time investigator on staff, another set to start in June and three who work on a contract basis. More will be added.
The center is charged with investigating the claims while also reporting them to appropriate law-enforcement authorities. NGBs are required to adhere to any sanctions the center hands down once an investigation is complete.
The center is designed to work similarly to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which receives funding from the USOC but is not controlled by the federation.
The center also plans on creating a searchable database of coaches and administrators with histories of abuse. The database will also have links to NGB websites, some of which already publish lists of banned coaches.