June 5, 2018 / 10:02 AM / 6 months ago

Ex-officials in US gymnastics sex abuse scandal to testify to Senate

WASHINGTON, June 5 (Reuters) - The heads of Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, who resigned in the wake of a sex abuse scandal involving a former doctor at their organizations, could face tough questions when they appear on Tuesday at a U.S. Senate hearing on how to protect athletes from similar behavior.

Lou Anna Simon, who resigned as president of Michigan State in January, and Steve Penny who stepped down as president of USA Gymnastics, were criticized for not doing enough to halt the abuse by Larry Nassar, who was convicted of molesting gymnasts in two separate cases.

Nassar, who worked as a doctor for USA Gymnastics and also served at an on-campus clinic at Michigan State, received prison sentences of up to 175 and 125 years in two Michigan courts, and 60 years in a separate federal case.

Simon and Penny are scheduled to testify before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, but the extent of their testimony may be limited as witnesses can assert the right not to answer questions for fear their testimony could be used in a potential criminal prosecution against them.

Many victims testified in the Michigan cases that Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment while on his examination table, sometimes hiding it from view of nearby parents.

The revelations of the long-running abuses sparked investigations by Congress and the U.S. Department of Education into possible offenses at U.S. athletic federations and schools. They also led to the resignation of the entire USA Gymnastics board and the head of the U.S. Olympic Committee also resigned, citing medical reasons.

Simon, who became president in 2005, said in her resignation letter in January that "as tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger."

Last month, hundreds of women sexually abused by Nassar tentatively agreed to a $500 million settlement with Michigan State.

Penny resigned in March 2017, saying it was in the best interests of the sport.

Kerry Perry, chief executive officer of USA Gymnastics since December, apologized last month to hundreds of female athletes sexually abused by Nassar and told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing "those days are over."

A third official, Rhonda Faehn, who was the women's program director of USA Gymnastics and was dismissed last month, also is scheduled to testify Tuesday. (Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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