A recent report by the Orange County Register has confirmed what we’ve known to be true, USA Gymnastics is not the only National Governing Body with systemic problems surrounding sexual abuse. The report published last week says, USA Swimming fostered a “culture of sexual abuse” and has spent decades ignoring or covering up hundreds of sexual abuse cases.
The report found, “USA Swimming repeatedly missed opportunities to overhaul a culture within American swimming where the sexual abuse of underage swimmers by their coaches and others in positions of power within the sport was commonplace and even accepted by top officials and coaches, according to the documents and interviews with sexual abuse survivors, former Olympians, USA Swimming officials, safe sport advocates and some of USA Swimming’s leading financial benefactors.”
After reviewing thousands of pages of memos, emails, court records, and other documents, the report by the news organization states, USA Swimming top officials acknowledged they were aware of sexually abusive coaches for years, or even daces, but took no action against them. “In at least 11 cases either [former USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus] or other top USA Swimming officials declined to pursue sexual abuse cases against high profile coaches even when presented with direct complaints.”
The report makes the following five claims:
- Since 1997, “at least 252 swim coaches and officials have been arrested, charged by prosecutors, or disciplined by USAS for sexual abuse or misconduct against individuals under 18. Those coaches and officials have a total of at least 590 alleged victims.”
- USA Swimming executives, coaches, and officials “acknowledged they were aware of statutory rape cases that occurred during U.S. national team trips to major international competitions.”
- Since at least 2010, USA Swimming “has kept a list of more than 30 coaches and officials “flagged” by USA Swimming officials after being arrested or accused by law enforcement of sex crimes including rape and child pornography, but not disciplined by USA Swimming. Some coaches and officials on the “flagged” list have not been banned even after they have been convicted of felonies. Of the 32 people on the “flagged list” in 2010, only six have been subsequently banned by USA Swimming. The “flagged list” is not available to the public. Even when USA Swimming has banned coaches and officials for life for sexual misconduct it can be years before their names are listed on the permanently banned list on USA Swimming’s website.”
- From 2006 to 2016, USA Swimming spent $7.45 million on legal fees. While it isn’t known how much of that was spent on sexual abuse cases, the report notes that USA Swimming “arranged settlement agreements in at least three states with victims of alleged sexual abuse before the cases were even filed with a court.”
- In 2013, USA Swimming “paid $77,627 to lobbying firms to lobby against legislation in California that would have made it easier for sexual abuse victims to sue their abusers and the organizations they worked for or represented in civil cases.”
Organizations such as USA Swimming are built on the success and achievements of young athletes. Abusive or inappropriate behavior by coaches has been ignored for decades. Coaches, who already hold so much power over young athletes, have been given a tremendous amount of leeway when it comes to the treatment of those athletes. In ignoring reports of abuse for decades, USA Swimming has failed these young women and men in the most horrendous way.
Swimmers who are victims of sexual abuse by their coaches have a right to seek justice to redress the wrongs done to them.