(Reuters) - Two former USA Gymnastics national team members on Monday filed civil lawsuits against the organisation, disgraced ex-team doctor Larry Nassar, and the U.S. Olympic Committee for failing to prevent sexual assault of young women in their care.
Tasha Schwikert, 33, who won a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and her sister Jordan, 32, described themselves as Nassar victims during a news conference at a Los Angeles law firm.
The complaint, filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks to hold the defendants accountable, alleging the Schwikerts were referred to Nassar for medical treatment, “even though it knew or should have known of Nassar’s sexual abuse and could have prevented it by taking sexual abuse allegations seriously and maintaining a culture of accountability and transparency.”
Nassar was sentenced in February to up to 125 years in prison after some 200 women, including Olympians, testified about decades of abuse at his hands.
USA Gymnastics said in a statement it was sorry the Schwikerts were abused by Nassar and it is working to make changes to ensure that athlete safety and well-being remains at the forefront of its work but otherwise would not comment on pending litigation.
“We are focused on fostering an environment that is safe, positive and encouraging for athletes and all members,” said USA Gymnastics.
The USOC did not respond when asked to comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges USA Gymnastics “kept a secret file of sexual abuse allegations and enabled a culture of psychological and physical abuse that kept young girls,” including the Schwikert sisters, silent.
According to the complaint, the “defendants willfully refused to notify, give adequate warning and implement appropriate safeguards” to protect the young gymnasts under their supervision.
“I am outraged at watching what’s been happening at USA Gymnastics. It’s like watching a perpetual circus of horribles,” Tasha told reporters.
According to a statement released on behalf of the sisters, the lawsuits are the first related to the Nassar scandal to seek damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, “as each of these defendants engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity including sexual exploitation, abuse, and trafficking of minors and conspiracy to commit such acts.”
In addition, the complaint alleges that the USOC threatened to de-certify USA Gymnastics as the sport’s national governing body for denying “due process” to convicted child sex abusers whom it placed on a ban list.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; editing by Clive McKeef