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I Was Sexually Abused As an Olympic Athlete Too. We Can End This Epidemic.

I knew when I was eight years old I was going to be an Olympian. I saw it; I felt it; I became it. As a young promising elite athlete I was naturally focused and could rise to almost any challenge in practice and competition.

But as those moments of triumph became louder, the little voice inside of me—the one that told me when something wasn’t right—gradually shut down and became silent.

At the age of 13, I found out that the silence was not only in me, but in everyone else. During an interview for a national newscast about making the national team for the first time, my coach was rubbing my thigh in a sexual way the entire time. The reporter ignored it and carried right on with the interview. I could feel my soul start to seep out of my body like a car being crushed for its parts. All this happened in plain sight and aired on national television.

 No one said a thing after the interview, and so I learned that it wasn’t safe to talk about what my coach was doing to me. I became a machine, an object; my value was contained entirely in my talent. That moment taught me that my passion for greatness would leave me exposed to unchecked dangers over the next near-decade, during which I was repeatedly sexually abused and harassed by my Olympic coach.

Sexual violence is prevalent across all industries. We have all been reminded of this in recent weeks, with heinous allegations of sexual abuse leveled against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein from the many brave actresses that have come forward. This ignited the hashtag #MeToo, and gave Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney a platform to feel safe enough to break her own painful silence about her abuse at the hands of doctor Larry Nassar.

 We have to ask: How did this sexual abuse go for so long, unchecked? All Maroney did was pursue the highest and best version of herself. By every measure she embodied what the Olympics are about: “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” But while Maroney lived up to those ideals, those who could have protected her did not.

I could easily blame the people who saw my national interview for not speaking up. And we can all condemn the many people in Olympic sports or in Hollywood who knew about rampant sexual abuse of young girls and said nothing. But the reality is that most of us look away from this behavior because we think we don’t have the power to stop it.

Only the gatekeepers in film, sports, and other fields have the knowledge and ability to put an end to sexual abuse. The problem is that many of them don’t see themselves as gatekeepers. They don’t want to ruffle feathers and take responsibility for what they know to be true. They live off of denial as a defense.

But pretending they didn’t know isn’t going to cut it anymore. Gatekeepers need to embrace their roles not just as managers or decision makers, but as protectors of the young girls they employ and from whom they profit. Their leadership roles are not just professional—they are moral. And if they refuse to take on this responsibility, they are complicit in the crimes they ignore.

It’s time to make sports, Hollywood, and all professional spheres safe for young girls to excel and freely express their passion. None of us are completely powerless. We can demand our leaders open their eyes to what is going on and take action against it. We need to. The talented, passionate girls of the future are counting on us.

Katherine Starr: Safe4Athletes' Founder Fighting To Keep Kids Safe From Sexual Abuse, Harassment, and Bullying

In recognition of April as National Youth Sports Safety Month, MomsTeam asked our friends in the medical, health, fitness, nutrition and athletic training communities to write blogs answering two questions: first, how or why did they get into their field, and second, how have they made a difference in the life of a youth athlete in the past year.

Today, as the month draws to a close, we hear from Katherine Starr, a former two-time Olympic swimmer and founder of Safe4Athletes, an advocacy and educational non-profit fighting to keep athletes safe from sexual abuse, harassment and bullying.

How did I get into my field?

The idea for Safe4Athletes came in 2011, during a time when I briefly had a job coaching swimming. I realized that my sport had changed very little over the decades, and was still doing little to protect young athletes from sexual abuse. As a victim of sexual abuse by my coach who has had to live for decades suffering from the tragic effects of such abuse, I wanted to do something that would change the sports environment to an "athletes first" focus, and create resources and an infrastructure that would provide a safe and positive environment for every athlete, free of abuse, bullying and harassment.

I reached out to my former Athletic Director at the University of Texas, Donna LoPiano, and asked her to help me found an organization to address the vulnerabilities of young athletes pursuing their dreams and goals, and to help other athletes who have experienced the same destructive abuse of power in the coach athlete relationship. Safe4Athletes' mission is to advocate for athletes that have been abused, bullied or harassed by their more powerful coach or teammate.

How have I made a difference in a young athlete's life in the past year?

In my role as an advocate for athletes involving coach-athlete sexual abuse, athlete-on-athlete sexual abuse, athlete cyber-bullying, athlete sexual hazing as well as many forms of athletic abuse in general, much of the work I do with Safe4Athletes tends to be less with the athletes than with parents of young athletes who have been abused, bullied or harassed.

On a daily basis, I guide parents through the process of getting the help and resources they need to address the egregious abuse their child has suffered.  Every concerned parent is looking for trust, empathy, compassion and understanding, as well as a solution to address their child's unique circumstances so they don't suffer any more pain.  While every athlete's story is painful, the knowledge and understanding that I have been able to impart to parents has been invaluable for both of us. It has been gratifying to see young athletes go from lifelessness and deep depression to thriving in life.  It is especially rewarding when a child-athlete is brave beyond their years in standing up to the power dynamic that is inherent in sports. To be able to witness this transformation first hand and play a small part in the process makes the challenges of running Safe4Athletes that much more meaningful.


Katherine Starr is a two-time Olympic swimmer for Great Britain (1984 and 1988). In 1986 she won two silver medals at the Commonwealth Gamesl, and was a 14-time All-American swimmer at the University of Texas, where she swam on three NCAA championship teams  for the Lady Longhorns.

Since she first began speaking out about abuse in sports, Katherine has earned a reputation for her expertise and eloquence on coach athlete sexual abuse, as witnessed by the increased traditional and social media attention Safe4Athletes has received, including features with NBC Sports Radio, the New York Times, NPR's "The Takeaway," CBS Sports Radio, Take Part Five (PIVOT Channel), Aljazeera America as well other nationally recognized media outlets in sports.

Katherine oversees Safe4Athletes and actively pressures National Governing Bodies to adopt stronger polices for all athletic clubs and programs. She champions legislation to implement stronger policy to give athletes rights at all levels of sports.

Through her work, Katherine educates lawyers/media/NGBs on the unique aspects of the power dynamic that exists in the coach athlete relationship. Katherine has also written several articles on the topic including "Breaking Down Sexual Abuse in Sports". She speaks openly about the failed representations in educational material on sexual abuse in sports and how those materials fall short in properly addressing the truth of the issue in competitive sports.

Katherine Starr C.V.

Curriculum Vitae of Katherine Starr

Email: katherine@safe4athletes.org

Tel: 310.309.1128    

Katherine Starr Fee Schedule      

Summary/Overview

Katherine is a two time Olympian 1984 and 1988 (Great Britain). In 1986 she won two silver medals at the Commonwealth Games. Katherine experienced success at the collegiate level in swimming for the University of Texas, participating on three NCAA championship teams and named 14-time All-American.

Katherine founded Safe4Athletes in 2011 as a result of living for decades with pain and suffering from the tragic effects of coach athlete sexual abuse. Safe4Athletes was brought to life to help other athletes who have experienced the same destructive abuse of power in the coach athlete relationship.  Safe4Athletes’ mission is to advocate for athletes that have been abused, bullied or harassed by their more powerful coach or teammate. 

Katherine has acted as an advocate for athletes involved in coach-athlete sexual abuse, athlete on athlete sexual abuse, athlete cyber-bullying, athlete sexual hazing as well as many forms of athletic abuse in general.

Since speaking out about abuse in sports, Katherine has developed a reputation for her expertise and eloquence on coach athlete sexual abuse. This is evident by the rapid growth of traditional media and social media attention on the problem of coach-athlete sexual abuse since the inception of Safe4Athletes including features with ESPN (Outside the Lines), NBC Sports Radio, NPR, BBC Radio, NY Times, the Takeaway, CBS Sports Radio, Take Part Five (PIVOT Channel), AljazeeraAmericaas well other nationally recognized media outlets in sports.  

Katherine oversees Safe4Athletes and actively pressures Sports Governing Bodies to adopt stronger polices for all athletic clubs and programs. She champions legislation to implement stronger policy to give athletes rights at all levels of sports.

Through her work, Katherine educates lawyers/media/NGBs on the unique aspects of the power dynamic that exists in the coach athlete relationship. Katherine has also written several articles on the topic including “Breaking Down Sexual Abuse in Sports” as well as a contributing author to I.OC (International Olympic Committee) Consensus – Harassment and Sexual Abuse in Sport published in the British Sports Medical Journal.

Katherine has worked with many local governments and congress in the United States (U.S.A) and internationally.  She has been instrumental in changing several state laws pertaining to sexual abuse. Katherine has written for multiple Senate hearings on coach-athlete sexual abuse. Her work has extended internationally with contributions for the International Olympic Committee, The Norwegian Olympic Committee, The Junior African Games, various British Sports Federations, the European Union general study on Abuse in Sport, as well many other international sports federations actively addressing these concerns. 

Katherine currently sits on several boards within the global sports community, including being an Advisor for the Center for Safe Sport.

 Education/Licensing

 Pepperdine School of Law – Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution –  (Masters Program) Accepted (Fall 2016) 

University of Texas, Austin  - Sociology, B.A

ATIXA– Title IX Coordinator and Administrator Training & Certification Course (Atlanta, GA)

Safeguarding and Protecting Children in Sport(SPC) – NSPCC – Leicester, England

Sports Lawyers Association Conference 2014, Chicago, Ill – Legal Issues Surrounding Bullying and Hazing in Sports

International Working Group - Women in Sport 2014, Helsinki, Finland 2014 - Sexual Harassment in Sport a Global Issue

 Experience

Safe4Athletes 2011- Present:Advocate for Athlete welfare – sexual abuse, bullying and harassment. Addressed all issues in sports from cyber bullying to sexual hazing to coach-athlete relationship abuse.

  • Expert Media Interviews – National and International Expert for issues in regards to athlete sexual abuse. Interview for the BBC, NPR, the Takeaway (NY Times Radio), NBC and CBS Radio as well national magazine publications like Marie Claire (Dec 2013 edition).
  • Worked with National Governing Bodies and Athletic Departments across the US to pressure administrators to implement more comprehensive policies for open amateur youth sports.
  • Developed customized programs and policies for USA collegiate athletic departments – Div 1.
  • Educated local leadership units across the country in the implementation of Safe4Athletes comprehensive programs addressing sexual abuse, bullying and harassment.
  • Consulted on national cases involving coach-athlete relationships
  • Lectured across the country on solutions to change the landscape for open amateur sports and provide a safe and positive environment for every athlete.
  • Advocated for athletes at all levels of sport, including professional sports organization.
  • Worked with Athlete-Parents (athletes over 18 yrs old) in addressing issues of abuse, bullying and Harassment in the sports environment.
  • Worked with Athlete Welfare Advocates (AWA) – training them on the Safe4Athletes Policies, point of contact to walk AWA thru the policies and procedures when violations have occurred at the local level; Work with AWA to resolve issues as they arise.

 University of Utah– Created Comprehensive Athlete Protection Program – 2013

  • Implemented a new role of Athlete Welfare Advocate for all Student-Athletes.
  • Designed a communication system for athletes to file complaints outside of the athletic department.
  • System infrastructure includes President of the University being in the loop for all Athlete complaints.
  • Athlete “safe” approach for filing complaint against coaches and administrators being accused of abuse or harassment by a student-athletes.
  • Successfully revised the policy to prohibit any intimate coach-athlete relationship.
  • Created Coaches Code of Conduct.
  • Coaches oversight program and monitoring requirements.
  • Implemented comprehensive policies for the entire athletic department, athletes and staff including the wellness team.

 Sports Club Athlete Advocate

Directly involved with many Safe4athletes program, to address all issues of abuse.  Support is provided in responding directly to concerns of abuse, investigation, and recommend resolution and direction based on the findings of the incident.

 Published Writings

The Real Truth About Collegiate Athletic Scholarships

Synopsis:Addresses abusive coaches that makes sports environments so unbearable that an athlete quits, just to be able to restore himself or herself to sanity. The silent injuries that aren't being recognized as injuries at all such as the harassment and abuse of a coach, or teammate for that matter, that leaves an athlete to suffer with no voice.

 The Vieth Report: Did It Hit the Mark or Miss All Together?

Synopsis:Addresses the failed understanding of the issues of coach-athlete sexual abuse and the types of sexual abuse and harassment that has thrived in the sports culture for decades.

Has Bullying Been Normalized in Sports?

Synopsis: Looks at bullying in sports and professional sports and how the culture has been normalized and therefore providing very little resources for the athletes to speak up when they are bullied.

The Truth about Coach-Athlete Relationships

Synopsis: Looks at the types of cases that have been in the news in regards to coach-athlete sexual abuse and the resources that are being offered, pointing out they are not addressing the truth of the issue.  Emphasizing the truth missing is the issue of sexual harassment and the power dynamic between the coach-athlete and how it is consistently overlooked and misunderstood.

Are You Really Prepared for the Upcoming Sports Season?

Synopsis: What steps can parents and sports team take to make sure policies and procedures are in place for abuse, bullying and harassment.

When Did the System Fail Kelley Davies Currin and the Rest of Us?

Synopsis: The worst kept secret of Kelly Davies Currin that stayed alive on the pool deck for over twenty years with no action from USA Swimming and decades of denial.

Breaking Down Sexual Abuse in Sports

Synopsis:The competing athlete has something at risk, for example, dreams of being an Olympian, a college scholarship, playing time or financial gain. There is a complex 'hook' keeping the athlete engaged in a relationship even when abusive and unhealthy. The athlete has to make decisions for the family, the team and the coach. When speaking up about the abuse, the athlete could be subject to retaliation from the team if there is a perceived threat of their dreams being compromised as a result of the coach removal; the parents that sacrificed everything to make sure that the child-athletes dreams are fulfilled or the coach that convinces the athlete that the only reason for her/his success is because of the "coach."

Times Have Changed -- So Should Athlete Safety

Synopsis:A mindset needs to be adopted within the sports community in order to protect our child-athletes from abuse. The coaches who spend hours upon hours each day with our child-athletes -- coaches who are possible pedophiles, bullies and emotional abusers -- are not constrained with any behavioral guidelines. We have not protected our child-athletes with the mindset that any coach among us could be a predator.

Athlete/Parent Shortcuts Lead to Athlete Suffering in the Long Run

Synopsis:accountability and commitment doesn't seem to translate to parents once they give up their child to the care of a youth sports program. There is an assumption that supervision is provided by coaches of unquestionable integrity and club policies exist to protect young athletes

 The Term 'Improper Relationship' Will Not Change the Culture Needed for Coach/Athlete Sexual Abuse

Synopsis:When one is talking about a 12-year-old girl and uses the term "improper relationship" to describe what transpired between a coach and athlete that term cannot come close to magnitude of the damage and wreckage created by sexual abuse between a minor child and coach.

 $60 Million Later and We're Still Vulnerable– July 2012 – Huffington Post

Synopsis: We need better laws and infrastructure in place to address coach-athlete sexual abuse with an independent investigation body.

Keep Our Child Athletes Safe– Jan 2012 – Huffington Post

Synopsis:Addressing while there are laws that criminalize sexual and physical abuse, but often, these coaches hold such power and sway, not to mention the keys to a bright, gold-medal-filled future, that the kids are intimidated into silence. They prioritize their own future Olympic team berth over emotional and physical health.

 Confronting Sexual Abuse and Harassment by Sport Coaches: A Need for a National Effort UnpublishedPosition Paper – Referenced in several books, including the Athletic Directors Desk Reference

I Was Sexually Abused As an Olympic Athlete Too. We Can End This Epidemic:Published Fortune.com (Oct 2017) 

Synopsis: It’s time to make sports, Hollywood, and all professional spheres safe for young girls to excel and freely express their passion. None of us are completely powerless. We can demand our leaders open their eyes to what is going on and take action against it.

 The IOC Consensus Statement: Harassment and Abuse in Sport

Publication: British Sports Medicine Journal (Feb 2016)

Link: http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/50/17/1019

Listed expert contributor

Senate Hearings May 17, 2017

Official Record: Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act of 2017

Speaking Engagements

Long Island Sports Commission – Keynote Speaker – April 2012 – Long Island, NY

Topic: Confronting Sexual Abuse and Harassment by Sport Coaches – “How and Why to Protect Athletes from Abuse, Bullying and Harassment in sports”

Southwest Conference Trainers Conference – Speaker – July 2012 – Dallas, TX

Confronting Sexual Abuse and Harassment by Sport Coaches – “How and Why to Protect Athletes from Abuse, Bullying and Harassment in sports”

Sports Law and Ethics Symposium – Speaker  – Sept 2012 -Santa Clara, CA

Topic: How to Prevent Sexual Abuse in Sports

National Center for Victims of Crime – Presenter – Sept 2012 – New Orleans, LA

Confronting Sexual Abuse and Harassment by Sport Coaches – “How and Why to Protect Athletes from Abuse, Bullying and Harassment in sports”

California Women’s Conference – Panel Speaker – Sept 2012 – Long Beach, CA

Women in Sports Panel Presentation discussing the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

Male Survivors Conference – Panel Speaker - Nov 2012 - New York, NY 

Topic: How to Prevent Sexual Abuse in Sports

Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) United Nations – Panel Speaker - March 2013 – New York, NY

Topic: How and Why to Prevent Sexual Abuse in Sports

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMIC) Safe to Compete Conference March 2013, Alexandria, VAby invitation onlyprivate conference with leaders from Sports National Governing Bodies and various Youth Sports Organization came together to discuss best practices for Youth Safety.

United States Independent Gymnastics ClubsNational Championships - July 2013 – Palm Springs

Topic:How to Speak up and Prevent Abuse, Bullying and Harassment with the Safe4Atheltes Program.

Tenacity – Speaker– Aug 2013 - Boston, MA

Topic: How to be an Athlete Welfare Advocate within the Safe4Athletes Program

Santa Clara Law School Symposium – Speaker – Oct 2013 – Santa Clara, CA

Topic:How and Why to Prevent Sexual Abuse in Sports

Overbrook High School - Guest Speaker – Jan 2014- Philadelphia, PA

Topic:How to Speak up and Prevent Abuse, Bullying and Harassment with the Safe4Atheltes Program.

Martin Luther King Jr.  High School Guest Speaker – Jan 2014 - Philadelphia, PA

Topic:How to Speak up and Prevent Abuse, Bullying and Harassment with the Safe4Atheltes Program.

Sharon High School – Guest Speaker - Feb 2014 - Sharon, PA

Topic:How to Speak up and Prevent Abuse, Bullying and Harassment with the Safe4Atheltes Program.

Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) United Nations - March 2014 - New York, NY

Topic: Educating about, and preventing, sexual harassment in sports

International Women and Sport (IWS) Conference – Speaker/Presenter – June 2014 – Helsinki, Finland  

Topic: Understanding Trends on Abuse in Sports: Results of the Safe4Athletes Survey

International Swim Coaches Association – Aug 2014 - Tampa, FL

Topic: Best Practices for Preventing Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports

MomsTeam Institute – Speaker – Harvard Medical School – Sept 2014

Topic: How to Prevent Sexual Abuse in Youths Sports, best practices

Santa Clara Law School Symposium – Speaker – Oct 2014 – Santa Clara, CA

Topic: Addressing the Complexity of Emotional Abuse in College Sports 

World Aquatic Health Conference – Speaker – Oct 2015 – Phoenix

Topic: Prevention against Sexual Abuse at Aquatic Facilities

Gymnastic World – Speaker – Oct 2015 - Cleveland

Topic:How to Speak up and Prevent Abuse, Bullying and Harassment with the Safe4Atheltes Program.

Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) United Nations - March 2016 - New York, NY

Topic: Creating local Policy for global change

Sport Resolution Conference – May 2016 – London, England

Topic: Safeguarding Elite Athletes

United Nations: Protecting Women and Sport – March 2017

Topic; Policy and Prevention from a global prospective

 

Upcoming Events

 

 WeLead - Atlanta Jun 28-30, 2019

 

Workshop Consultant

Beyond Sport Conference - Sept 2013 - Philadelphia, PA

Topic: Safeguarding in Sports Workshop

 

Media Engagements (partial list)

National and Local TV Interviews

The Stream – Al Jazeera America – Featured Guest - High Price of Olympic Glory

Take Five – Pivot Channel – Featured Guest - Safety issues in Youth Sports

NBC Phoenix, AZ - Investigative Story – Expert Contributor

CBS – New York – Sexual Abuse in Sports and the vulnerabilities of Elite Athletes

Fox Syndicated News - New York, NY - Sexual Abuse in Sports and the vulnerabilities of Elite Athletes

ABC Syndicated News – New York, NY - Sexual Abuse in Sports and the vulnerabilities of Elite Athletes

NBC – WFMJ – Youngstown, Ohio - Former Olympic athlete offers help for sexual abuse victims

PBS – Documentary – Best Practices in Preventing Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports

FOX 11 LA – Expert Commentary on Sexual Abuse of an Athlete (Dec 2016)

ESPN - Outside the Lines (Nov 2017) – Expert Consultant on Sexual Abuse in Sports

WLS-TV – Chicago – Preventing Sexual Abuse in Sport  (Feb 2018)

 

Radio Shows

CBS Radio – New York

The Takeaway – Subsidiary of New York Times

NBC Sports Radio

BBC Radio 4 – Documentary – Sexual Abuse in Sports

NPR - SoCal Olympic swimmer travels to London Olympic Games 2012 to combat athlete abuse

“Women in Sports “ – Expert on Sir Lanka Cricket team and wide spread sexual abuse

BBC – Joel Hammer Show (Oct 2015) (Nov 2016) (Jan 2018)

BBC – Sports Hour (2016)

BBC – Feature Story (Oct 2016)

BBC Domestic News Guest (2016, 2017, 2018)

BBC News Hour Featured Guest (2016, 2017, 2018)

KLAA – Community Cares – Angels Radio (2012) (2018)

 

National Magazines

Marie Clare Magazine – Addressing the issues and the vulnerability to Athletes being sexual abused, the failures of the National Governing Bodies to address independently.

Runners World – Addressing the issues and the vulnerability to Athletes being sexual abused and without resources to help.

Swim News– Empowering Swimmers and Ending Abuse

The Atlantic– Emotional Abuse in Sports

 

Newspaper Media – Online & Print (short list)

New York Times – Commented on WNBA hire and sexual harassment implications (May 2015)

Orange Country Register – Front Page Sunday Edition

Austin American Statesman – Front Page of the Sports Section                                     

New York Daily News – Featured Story

Independent British Paper – Featured expert

Dayton Daily News – Featured expert about Kayla Harrison sexual abuse victim

IndyStar – Quoted on Jerry Sandusky outcome and the $60 Million Settlement.

IndyStar – Gymnastics Sexual Abuse

Washington Post – Gymnastics Sexual Abuse

Vice – Featured Article

Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition – Feature Story on Katherine Starr and Safe4Athletes

 

Board of Directors/Advisory Boards

Safe4AthletesChair of Board

US Center for Safe Sport(USOC Independent center to investigate and adjudicate allegations of sexual abuse in sports) – Advisory Board Member

Safe Sport International– An International Organization to provide best practices in policies to National Sports Governing Bodies, International Sports Federations –Founding Member

MomsTeam Institute– Advisor Board – Sexual Abuse prevention in Youth Sports         

Paradigm Treatment FacilityAdvisor Board Member– Teen treatment center specializing in Athlete emotional trauma

SoCal Olympians and Para-Olympians – Board Member (2014-Present)

 

Expert Witness / Consulting

International Olympic Committee (IOC) - Expert on Harassment & Abuse in Sports – July 2015

University of Utah Athletic Department – Policy Development – 2013

Senator Feinstein Office – Feinstein Sexual Abuse Bill (2017)

Norwegian Olympic Committee – Review, Policy Development and implementation of best practices, for all sports program in Norway.

Zambia Olympic Committee - Review, Policy Development and implementation of best practices

Zimbabwe Olympic Committee - - Review, Policy Development and implementation of best practices

African Youth Games (2018) - - Technology Strategy, Policy Development and implementation of best practices for all youth athletes attending the Games

USA Government Office of Accountability – Youth Sport Campus on College Campus athlete abuse prevention strategies (2015)

European Union – Best Practices for Sexual Abuse Prevention in Sport

 

Current On-Going Case Involvement (Unable to disclose full details)

Fabian vs Earth Treks – Maryland (Plaintiff)

Doe vs Arizona Board of Regents – Arizona (Plaintiff)

Doe vs Hesperia Unified School District- CA (Plaintiff)

Doe vs Regents of the University of California– CA (Defendant)

Doe vs. USA Gymnastics (Plaintiff) (multiple –cases)

Doe vs. Pop Warner Little Scholars (Plaintiff) (multiple defendants)

Doe vs. Torrance School District (multiple – cases) (plaintiff)

Dewitt vs. Federal Way School District (Plaintiff)

Doe 140 vs. Amateur Athletic Union of the United States,, Inc.

Landstrom vs. Amateur Athletic Union of the United States,, Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

The Truth About Coach-Athlete Relationships

Since the Sandusky case we have jumped on the bandwagon in sports and addressed child sexual abuse in sports. We show videos of adolescent aged girls and boys being targeted and abused. Without a doubt, we react emotionally and with revulsion to something so horrific as the taking the innocence of a young child.

Yet, that isn’t the whole truth when discussing coach-athlete sexual abuse. If you look at the list of banned swim coaches on the USA Swimming website, there isn’t one coached banned for a sexual abuse who was accused of having a relationship with a swimmer under the age of 13.

We wouldn’t know that based on the education videos that we are forced to watch in order to be certified in some capacity in sports. These videos only depict young children being cultivated by acquaintance pedophiles.

Why aren’t we seeing videos of an 17-yr-old voicing how a close relationship with his or her coach went from athlete affection as a reward for their hard work on the practice field to molestation or, from the psyche and perspective of the artfully manipulated athlete, “a loving relationship.” This scenario just doesn’t pull at our heartstrings in the same way. Why aren’t we seeing a video of a 25-year-old, who we assume is a consenting adult, talking about such a relationship? We react with even less sympathy in this case, if any at all.

If we truly want to address sexual abuse and harassment in sports we need to call it what it is, an abuse of power between the coach and the athlete that occurs at all ages. We are misled if educational materials imply something else.

If we look at the minimum age requirements to compete in the Olympics by sport, one would find that age requirements correlate to the vulnerability of athlete sexual abuse. The lower end sports that begin to peak around 13/14 like gymnastics, swimming and taekwondo is also the age where the “coach-athlete relationship” begins and coaches start to get banned for their inappropriate relationships with their athletes.

When you look some of the old minimum-age sports like Team Handball, Cycling and Weightlifting that have age requirements of 17-or 18-years-old, we hear less about these cases, as it is presumed that there was consent with the coach at that point.

If you look at the Safe4Athletes.org website of listed organizations with a list of banned coaches, they are the ones with the younger age limits to compete at the international level.

What does this tell us? Answer: We are continuing to fail to understand the dynamic between the coach and the athlete as being one that is characterized first and foremost as an “abuse of power” regardless of the age of athlete.

Current and new laws only address this issue up to the age of 18, which tells me we are responding to that picture of the 8-year-old victim and not the 24-year-old athlete that we all presumed consented to their inappropriate relationship with their coach.

If we took the approach of addressing this issue across the age spectrum, we have a better chance of truly hearing and understand what the real problem is with regard to coach-athlete relationships. For too long, sport organizations have refused to deal with this issue. Now that litigation and bad press are forcing sport leaders to adopt policies and education programs, rather than confronting the issue in its entirety and identifying its “abuse of power” source, our heads are still “in the sand”. This issue is less about the child abuser still on the loose in our larger society. This issue is about a more artful sport-specific or education-specific version of abuse in which a position of power is key to taking advantage of less powerful and emotionally less mature athletes to advance a coach’s sexual appetite. In many ways, this form of abuse is more insidious because of the violation of trust in a revered position - be it coach, teacher or priest.

Not only do we all need to get our heads “out of the sand” but we must design educational materials and create new laws to truthfully express the nature of the problem.

 

Breaking Down Sexual Abuse in Sport

Since the Sandusky case we have all been made aware that sexual abuse of a young child by a coach is possible. Yet, more attention to the subject and types of sexual abuse in sports needs to be committed to addressing this topic and to developing an infrastructure that supports the needs of the athletes for a safe and positive environment in sports.

The world of sports is complex in regards to the coach-athlete relationship. Although a large proportion of U.S. children participate in youth sport, we do not give appropriate attention to analysis of the four differing types of sexual abuse in sports: pedophilia, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and athlete domestic violence.

Pedophilia may be defined as pre-puberty abuse and is not gender-specific. This type of abuse is committed by an adult who has a desire of sexual exploitation of a child. This type of abuse can happen in any setting. There is no data to support that the sports environment is more prone to this type of abuse compared to other types of settings, like school or after school programs. This is a wide spread problem in the culture.

The second type is sexual harassment. The workplace addressed this issue in the 70s by implementing Title VII (7). Many professions are required to take on-going sexual harassment training as part of the profession or part of the employment. The school system has also addressed this issue under Title IX. In both of these cases the standard of evidence is a preponderance, which is commonly referred to 50 percent and a feather, meaning that it is more likely to have happened than not. While sexual harassment has been addressed in the workplace it is wide spread in sports and is not covered under the other laws because the athlete is NOT considered an employee. Therefore regardless of age, the athlete does not have equal legal protection afforded to other environments. Athletes are required to endure harassment purely because the dynamic is not considered employer/employee.

The third type is coach/athlete sexual abuse; often a pubescent athlete engaged in a sexual act with a coach. This can be on-going or a one time act. In some cases, the business model of the sports environment perpetuates this issue making it difficult to change this culture. When the coach-athlete sexual abuse is on going it becomes more complex and can further develop into Athlete Domestic Violence (ADV).

Athlete Domestic Violence can be described as an athlete in a (perceived) “relationship” with a coach and can involve consenting age or not. The dynamics develops regardless of age. Professional standards maintain that a ‘romantic relationship’ is never appropriate as the coach always has a structural power advantage over a competing athlete.

The competing athlete has something at risk, for example, dreams of being an Olympian, a college scholarship, playing time or financial gain. There is a complex ‘hook’ keeping the athlete engaged in a relationship even when abusive and unhealthy. The athlete has to make decisions for the family, the team and the coach. When speaking up about the abuse, the athlete could be subject to retaliation from the team if there is a perceived threat of their dreams being compromised as a result of the coach removal; the parents that sacrificed everything to make sure that the child-athletes dreams are fulfilled or the coach that convinces the athlete that the only reason for her/his success is because of the “coach.”

The other reason that this may also be described as Athlete Domestic Violence is because of the presence of external pressure and the lack of sympathy that is also commonly found in a domestic violence relationship. When an athlete stays involved in the sport, the coach or the team, there is an assumption that the athletes could always have easily removed themselves and speak up. They are often blamed and it’s seen as ‘their fault’ if they knowingly continue to put themselves in harms way. These dynamics are complex and need to be treated as such. Resources need to be put in place so as not to further victimize the athlete via the coach, the team or the family.

The breakdown of sexual abuse by gender is 90 percent involving older male and younger female. The remaining 10 percent is split evenly amongst older male and younger male, older female-younger male, and older female-younger female across all types of sexual abuse in sports. 1

What is being asked of the athlete is to have emotional intelligence that actually requires a team of highly educated and trained adults to deal with the issue safely and effectively. Too often a young athlete is required to address this issue on her/his own without any resources to help.

It is Safe4Athletes mission to 1) find those resources to help the ADV victim, 2) change legislation so athletes have protection in place against sexual harassment, 3) stop the athlete sexual abuse that is further exploited and encouraged because of institutional business models, and 4) keep pedophiles out of sports environments entirely.

1. Kirby, S.L., Greaves, L. and Hankivsky, O (2000) The Dome of Silence: Sexual Harassment and Abuse in Sport, Fernwood, Halifax.