Empowered by the public outcry when abuse by former USA Gymnastics team doctor and convicted pedophile Larry Nassar was revealed, athletes in other sports have begun to speak up about sexual abuse in their sports, such as those on a swim team.
Some of the most heart-wrenching stories of abuse have come from the swimming world. Like gymnastics, it is another sport where individual success is emphasized even though swimmers compete as a team. This mindset opens the door to intense one-on-one relationships with coaches, trainers, and medical staff who can easily take advantage of an innocent athlete.
Swim Team Sexual Abuse
Child predators will often seek to join a successful coaching staff or present themselves as an expert in a particular topic knowing full well that nobody will pay too much attention to their behavior so long as the kids they are coaching keep winning.
Swimmers, who are reassured that the pool is a safe space, and told by their parents to listen to their coaches, are then in the perfect position to be groomed for sexual abuse.
Support Staff & Doctors Are Abusers Too
As the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal taught us, young athletes are at risk of being abused by any person who can legitimize their behavior by claiming they are part of the team’s success.
Swimmers are desperate to stay on the team, and stay in the pool. This leads to risky behavior, and allows support staff to easily influence them. Abusers know they can take advantage of this situation to get themselves alone with young players who will believe and do whatever they are told in pursuit of success.
Trainers, doctors, and other members of a swim team’s support staff must be carefully vetted and closely supervised. Their interaction with young swimmers must be monitored no matter how trustworthy they seem.
Failure To Report Swim Team Sexual Abuse
Oftentimes coaches, support staff, or parents can tell something bad has happened, but the kids are too freaked out or scared to tell them exactly what occurred. This is a huge red flag. Coaches, staffers, and parents must push for the truth in these situations. Not doing so makes them just as guilty as the abusers.
If sexual abuse is discovered, it should be immediately reported to the authorities. Unfortunately, swim teams often try to address abuse in-house to preserve their own reputation and the sport’s image. Covering up problems instead of properly reporting them makes these organizations just as guilty as the abusers they harbored.
You Are Not Alone
One of the most heart-breaking things we hear from victim-survivors is that they thought they were alone. They thought they were the only ones who went through what they did.
They tried to push memories of abuse to the back of their mind. They spent years thinking they did something wrong instead of blaming the predator that hurt them, or the organization that failed them.
Until they saw a story on the news about others who were abused, or talking to a loved one or therapist made them realize what they experienced was not right, they had tried to normalize or rationalize the abuse they endured.
It is time to break the silence that surrounds sexual abuse on swim teams. Sexual abuse is not an isolated problem that only occurs rarely; it is widespread, and it has been going on for years.
We are here to say that nobody is alone. We are here to stand with you. We are here to spread the word that victims are not to blame. Abusers and the organizations that shelter them are the villains in this story.
New Statute of Limitations Law Opens a Window of Opportunity
Scientific research has revealed that victims of childhood sexual abuse often need years or decades to come to terms with what happened to them, and our laws are finally recognizing this. On October 13, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 218 into law. This new law gives past victims of sexual abuse more time to pursue justice, even if their claims were previously time-barred.
California victim-survivors now whose cases were previously time-barred are being given a three-year period in which they may file suit. From January 1, 2020 until December 31, 2022, any youth soccer player who was abused has the opportunity to file a lawsuit and see justice served. No matter when the abuse occurred, even if it was decades ago, those responsible deserve to be held accountable.
Victims may be eligible for compensation, but they will also get the satisfaction of knowing they are part of a movement that will hold enabling institutions accountable and ensure that kids today will not suffer a similar fate.
Experience You Can Trust
Attorney Paul Mones urges anyone who was abused as a member of a swim team to contact his office and explore what the alternatives for justice that may be available to him.