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Olympics opened first-ever sexual assault centers as at least 10 cases reported

by Erik Ortiz /

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea — In a first for any Olympic Games, centers to address incidents of sexual misconduct were opened over the course of the 16-day sporting event as a way for athletes, volunteers, spectators and anyone else to come forward for help.

During the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the four centers reported at least 10 cases — classified as "sexual harassment" — before Sunday's closing ceremony, a director said.

Related: Winter Olympics in South Korea opens centers to address sexual assault

Officials with the Gender Equality Support Centers, however, declined to comment on the types of people who reported the incidents and what generally occurred, citing confidentiality reasons, but said that none of the victims ultimately asked for police intervention.

The center's counselors were able to notify appropriate supervisors about cases in which the actions of a person accused of misconduct might warrant their removal from a venue or dormitory, for instance.

Image: Gender Equality Support Centers
One of four Gender Equality Support Centers located at the Gangneung Olympic Park at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea on Feb. 23, 2018.Erik Ortiz / NBC News

Four of the 10 cases were reported to the support center located within the bustling Olympic Park in Gangneung, where the ice events have taken place and not far from the villages where some of the athletes and members of the workforce reside.

"It's not how many cases were reported, but that victims came forward and that a support system was made available to them," one of the directors, Eun So Yoon, said through a translator.

The International Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but previously told NBC News that it has "been active in the field of prevention of harassment and abuse in sport for many years, and has developed a number of initiatives."

Those include the creation of a "safeguarding officer" at each games to review protecting athletes and others from harassment and abuse, and the release of educational materials and creation of a website.

The sexual assault centers were opened amid a heightened awareness of sexual misconduct by powerful men in various industries. Athletes in particular have garnered attention in recent months as the trial progressed against former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who is accused of molesting more than 260 women and girls, including Olympic champions, and began serving a 60-year federal sentence for possession of child pornography this month.

It's unclear if the IOC plans to support the opening of sexual assault centers at future Olympic Games.

Kwon Eun Jin, the head of women's welfare in the Gangwon-do Provincial Office, said there were overall 21 cases of sexual assault or harassment reported throughout the region over the course of the Olympics — highlighting how such high-profile international events require more investment.

The centers will reopen when PyeongChang hosts the 2018 Winter Paralympics in March.

"The Olympics and the Paralympics have been set up for our joy," Yoon added. "If we can help alleviate any of the gender violence, then it was worth them opening."

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