NYT > Sports
Of all the charges against ex-US gymnastics coach John Geddert on Thursday, the 20 human trafficking cases appeared to be the most alarming.
The charges announced by Michigan’s Attorney General shortly before Mr Geddert’s suicide represent a creative legal strategy for prosecutors that experts say could set a precedent for future litigation with coaches in the high-pressure world of elite sport.
Although many people associate human trafficking with sexual abuse and people smuggling, its actual definition is much broader and includes exploitation and forced labor. This makes the term ripe for exploration in the context of abusive athletic environments.
What is human trafficking?
Under US law, according to the Department of Justice, human trafficking is the use of “force, fraud, or coercion” to get work or a commercial sexual act.
Definitions of human trafficking and criminal sanctions vary by state, but by and large, human trafficking is focused on “exploiting one person for the benefit of another,” said Kimberly P. Jordan, a clinical law professor at Ohio State University that specializes in child abuse and neglect.
According to Kathryn Robb, executive director of Child USAdvocacy, human trafficking can be broken down into three occasionally overlapping categories: domestic workers, forced labor and sex trafficking. In Mr Geddert’s case, his human trafficking charges included 14 cases of forced labor that resulted in injury and six cases of human trafficking involving a minor being trafficked for forced labor.
Recognition…Greg Deruiter / Lansing State Journal, via Associated Press
According to several experts, bringing prosecution charges was a strategic move and it was not difficult to see how the definition could be applied to the actions of abusive coaches who benefit financially from the success of the athletes they coach.
Young athletes in particular can be vulnerable to manipulation and control when trying to achieve certain goals or achieve a certain status, which leaves them vulnerable to sexual abuse and human trafficking, Ms. Robb said. (In addition to the human trafficking charges, Mr. Geddert was charged with first and second degree criminal sexual misconduct.)
“These coaches and doctors have tremendous power and control over these children in Larry Nassar’s case,” Ms. Robb said, referring to the embarrassed former US team doctor who molested hundreds of girls and women. “The promise of a gold medal is quite a carrot.”
The mere fact of accusing Mr Geddert of human trafficking could have implications for the wider sports world beyond just gymnastics, experts said.
“This makes trainers and coaches aware of how they treat their athletes,” said Professor Jordan.
Is human trafficking the same as people smuggling?
The word “human trafficking” can conjure up images of movement from place to place, but transportation is not a required part of human trafficking, Ms. Robb said.
“It’s a misnomer,” she said. “You don’t have to transport anyone to be considered human trafficking.”
People trafficking is often confused with people smuggling, which is another criminal activity. While human trafficking is focused on exploitation, smuggling mainly involves transporting a person or using fraudulent documents to gain illegal entry into a country.
What happens next?
On Friday, a spokesman for Dana Nessel, the Michigan attorney general, said Ms. Nessel’s office was not investigating Mr. Geddert.
After a defendant on criminal charges dies, a criminal case is quite contentious, Professor Jordan said.
However, experts said that other legal options such as B. Civil actions against Mr Geddert’s estate remained open to possible victims.