The Safe Sport Act of 2018 expands the right to file suit for young victims of sexual abuse in sports.
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Enacted in February 2018, the Protecting Young Victims From Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017, spearheaded by Senator Dianne Fienstein (D-California), was inspired by recent abuse scandals from the world of Olympic-level athletics, most notably the Larry Nassar case in USA Gymnastics.
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Broadly written to tackle the problem of abuse within youth athletics, the Safe Sport Act requires coaches, volunteers and national governing board members to report complaints of sexual misconduct promptly.
It also expands the rights of young student-athletes to sue for damages in the wake of abuse, providing a new statute of limitations (to extend the victim more time to file suit) and outlining statutory damages that can be recovered.
All youth sport organizations, including but not limited to Olympic-level national governing bodies, will now be required to implement a slate of protections for young athletes, including reporting and response programs.
The Safe Sport Act obligates all "covered individuals" to report potential child abuse, including sexual abuse, to the proper authorities "as soon as possible," within 24 hours of receiving facts sufficient to raise the suspicion of child abuse. Nearly everyone who works or volunteers in youth sports, including college athletics, is now a mandatory reporter.
Mandatory reporters who fail to forward a sexual abuse complaint to local or federal law enforcement or a social services representative risk criminal penalties.
"Covered individuals" is an extremely broad category of people, covering any adult who is authorized to interact with minor athletes and amateur athletes, including members and member organizations of one of the US Olympic Committee's 47 national governing bodies.
All coaches, doctors and trainers who are authorized to interact with young athletes are now mandatory reporters, according to federal law.
But the Safe Sport Act is not limited to Olympic-track athletics, which are controlled by the US Olympic Committee. The law extends to cover any "amateur sports organization that participates in interstate or international amateur athletic competition," including school, college and university programs, along with youth sports camps and recreational leagues.
Alongside its particular regulations for the US Olympic Committee, its national governing bodies and the US Center for SafeSport, the Safe Sport Act places particular duties on youth-serving amateur sports organizations that participate in interstate or international athletic competition.
Most sports clubs, leagues and school programs are now required to establish policies that will limit the amount of one-one-one time between minor amateur athletes and adults at their facilities. Interactions between athletes and adults, the law states, should be held at an "observable and interruptible distance" from another adult. In short, these interactions should be held where they can be monitored by someone else and disrupted if necessary.
Youth-serving amateur sports organizations are also required to train adults who interact with minors on the proper way to prevent and report child sexual abuse. Granted parental consent, appropriate training should also be provided to minor athletes.
The Safe Sport Act also provides a new cause of legal action for victims of sexual abuse in youth sports. Any person who was victimized as a minor and suffers an injury due to the abuse is allowed to sue the perpetrator in federal court for fair compensation.
The law provides for statutory damages, a liquidated damages amount of $150,000, but victims may also file suit for their actual financial damages if the amount of claimed damages is larger than $150,000. Victims are also eligible to secure compensation for their attorney's fees and court costs. The law also allows for punitive damages, in light of an applicable court ruling.
National governing bodies and youth sports organizations can also be sued for failing to comply with the Safe Sport Act. Individual members, including coaches and volunteers, may be civilly liable for failing to report sexual abuse complaints.
In the past, victims of abuse had up to 10 years to file a lawsuit for youth sports-related sex abuse, but the time limit began ticking on the date of the abuse. The Safe Sport Act expands this right, by replacing the normal statute of limitations with a "discovery rule." Now, the 10-year statute of limitations begins when the victim discovers the nature of their injuries, whether or not they are a minor when this discovery takes place. In every case, lawsuits must be filed by the victim's 28th birthday.
The Safe Sport Act of 2018 also amends the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 to designate the U.S. Center for SafeSport as the nation's independent organization dedicated to preventing and addressing sexual abuse in youth sports.
The U.S. Center for SafeSport has been charged with developing policies and procedures to train members of national governing bodies, create mechanisms for reporting sexual abuse and implement an office to resolve sexual abuse allegations. The Center is now busy developing a database of disciplinary records against coaches and volunteers that will be searchable by the general public.
The U.S. Center for SafeSport has also been granted authority to govern the US Olympic Committee's 47 national governing body, keeping tabs on their efforts to stamp out dangerous sexual predators within their ranks.