You’ve probably heard about the U.S. Center for SafeSport. It’s an independent organization created by Congressional mandate to handle reports of sexual abuse in Olympic sports. Athletes for Equity in Sport supports Congress’ intent in authorizing SafeSport. However, SafeSport’s procedures urgently need to be reviewed and modified. The current process does not protect all of the parties involved, yet lives are being changed forever.
How did this happen? Congress’ mandate only authorized the creation of SafeSport. It didn’t include any guidelines or rules for investigating and resolving cases of alleged sexual abuse. So when setting up policies and procedures, SafeSport followed the system used by universities to resolve allegations of sexual misconduct in college sports under Title IX. Many of SafeSport’s initial employees had a background in handling Title IX cases.
As a result, SafeSport cases have been handled by what’s known as the single investigator method. This means that one person is assigned to handle the investigative stage of each case.
He or she interviews parties on both sides, examines the evidence presented and determines whether the accused party may be in violation of SafeSport code, or a former rule of their sport’s National Governing Body, or a criminal code or statute that existed at the time of the alleged act(s). That individual then makes a recommendation to SafeSport’s Director of Resolution.
But now, Title IX case verdicts are being challenged — and often reversed — in federal district courts across the country. Why? These courts are finding that having a claim of sexual abuse investigated and adjudicated and sanctions determined based on the recommendation of a single investigator violates the legal rights of individuals involved in that claim — rights that are guaranteed to all Americans by our country’s Constitution.
Clearly, the single investigator model is flawed and unfair. While the person making the report needs to be protected, so do the due process legal rights of the person accused. Furthermore, in order for their outcome to be accepted and respected, cases must be resolved on their merits via a lawful process.
Title IX schools initially devised the single investigator system in response to a 2011 “significant guidance document” from the Department of Education. Known as the Dear Colleague Letter, it reminded school officials of their obligation to address and prevent sexual abuse under Title IX, which protects students from such misconduct. Furthermore, it spelled out specific requirements for doing so.
In their haste to comply, schools created a resolution model best described as “Shoot first, ask questions later”: Decisive negative action is taken before any effort is made to find out whether that action is appropriate, justifiable, or even necessary. This describes the policies in need of review at the Center for SafeSport.
The “Dear Colleague Letter” was rescinded by the Department of Education in 2017. However, by then, the legislation that created SafeSport was already on its way to being signed into law and woven into the fabric of all Olympic sports.
This legislation is officially titled The Protecting Young Victims and SafeSport Authorization Act. Crafted in response to the serious abuse issues in Olympic gymnastics, it amends the 1998 Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, which guarantees protection for the legal rights of athletes in Olympic sports.
The Protecting Young Victims and SafeSport Authorization Act extends that guarantee to specifically include protection from sexual abuse. It also mandated the creation of the U.S. Center for SafeSport to handle claims of sexual abuse in Olympic sports.
In the absence of further Congressional oversight, those in charge at SafeSport opted to follow the failed procedures used in Title IX investigations. These procedures must be reviewed. When the single investigator model of resolution was devised and adopted, no one researched or considered the unintended consequences for participants on both sides of sexual abuse/misconduct allegations.
This is not uncommon when new programs are rushed into place per Congressional mandates but left without further guidance. Federal Courts end uprighting the wrongs and fixing the problems — sadly, long after a person’s life has been forever changed.
Recent lectures and presentations by a SafeSport representative imply that the single investigator model is no longer in place. However, to date, no one handling such cases has seen anything but references to “one investigator” and “one Director’s decision”.
Although multiple individuals now allegedly review and decide a case through SafeSport, neither the investigative file nor the Director’s Decision document list additional persons involved in the process of a case.
It’s time to fix the inequities in SafeSport procedures. Athletes for Equity in Sport (AthletesForEquity.org) recommends the following corrections:
First, establish the legal boundaries intended by Congress in amending the Ted Stevens Act, especially with regard to the creation and use of the U.S. Center for SafeSport to protect athletes in Olympic sports against sexual abuse.
Second, create a dialogue with SafeSport, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), and its related National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and affiliates to (1) address SafeSport policies and procedures lacking legal equity; and (2) construct a fairer process for all parties.
Third, get Congressional support for policy changes that proactively and retroactively address equity (or lack thereof) in SafeSport procedures.
Fourth, press for judicial and Congressional remedies compelling equitable policy changes to SafeSport as well as from the USOPC and its related NGBs and affiliates — including legal filings to the appropriate level of the law, if negotiations are unsuccessful.
Athletes for Equity in Sport is sending weekly letters to the 116th Congress and the U.S. Center for SafeSport to raise awareness of these issues and to help identify solutions.
A review of SafeSport’s inadequate system is long overdue. Athletes for Equity in Sport is here to help facilitate that discussion and bring about positive change in the SafeSport process. Please read our ongoing updates and join Athletes for Equity in Sport at:
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