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House Ed. Leader Wants GAO to Examine Student-Athlete Sex Abuse

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Guest post by Bryan Toporek. Cross-posted from the Schooled in Sports blog.

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.

"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.

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