Heard on the Hill

Feinstein Issues Warning After Abused Gymnasts Tell Their Stories

‘It’s a new day,’ says California Democrat after Senate Judiciary hearing

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., shakes hands with Dominique Moceanu,1996 Olympic gymnastics gold medalist, before the start of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Protecting Young Athletes From Sexual Abuse" on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein displayed some anger on Tuesday when she warned the U.S. Olympic Committee, “You’re going to hear from us,” about allegations of abuse of its gymnastics team members.

The California Democrat introduced a bill that would require amateur athletics governing bodies to immediately report sexual abuse allegations to law enforcement. The bill would also make failure to do so a crime.

The legislation was first co-sponsored by Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and several other members from both parties have signed on.

Former U.S. national gymnasts Dominique Moceanu, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist, Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, Mattie Larson, Jeanette Antolin and Jessica Howard were invited to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Moceanu is an advocate for the bill and the other four are abuse victims.

The U.S. Olympic Committee sent representative Rick Adams to testify. 

Dealing with abuse of young female athletes “is a whole new field for me,”Feinstein said at a news conference immediately following the hearing. “It really started with my meeting two months ago with these women.”

Feinstein invited them to Capitol Hill two months ago to share their stories after an Indiannapolis Star story revealed a cycle of abuse of young female gymnasts by their coaches.

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“I’ve never done a press conference after a hearing,” Feinstein said. She added that she did it to signal that “it’s a new day.”

Feinstein, Collins and Others Call For Better Reporting of Sexual Abuse in Athletics

Feinstein said when she first met with the former female athletes, one of them had her husband beside her and her baby on her lap and sobbed while sharing her story.

Before calling on Moceanu to speak, Feinstein said she would call on the women one by one to speak. But as Moceanu was testifying, one of the other former gymnasts began to cry.

“I’m going to save you all,” Feinstein said, telling the women that only those who wanted to speak should come up.

Antolin spoke of the breach of the trust that parents had put in USA Gymnastics, the national governing body of U.S. gymnastics, and former team doctor Larry Nassar, who faces sexual assault charges.

“My parents trusted the people who were in charge, which was USA Gymnastics,” Antolin said.

Many of the senators at the news conference spoke as parents.

“Every parent in America, on a regular basis, lends their children to other adults,” Indiana Republican Sen. Todd Young said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal continued with the same sentiment.

“What happened here is a parent’s worst nightmare,” the Connecticut Democrat said.

Indiana Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly said the group of senators has been working on the bill since August after his home state paper uncovered the story.

Collins said what the newspaper uncovered is “inconceivable.”

Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar read a letter from an anonymous parent detailing the abuse her daughter endured from a coach.

And Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, a veteran, said she will not tolerate sexual assault in gyms, on college campuses, or in the military.

Feinstein, looking at Adams, the U.S. Olympic Committee representative, said, “There is a lot of trust in the Olympic Committee to really respond. You’re going to hear from us.”

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