Responses to USA Swimming’s Vieth Report Run The Full Spectrum

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, January 28. IT’s been a day since USA Swimming released the independent report on its Safe Sport program, and there’s definitely been a wide spectrum of responses to the process and the recommendations themselves.

On the pro-report side, MaleSurvivor, the National Organization Against Male Sexual Victimization publicly supported the report with a press release today. MaleSurvivor particularly was happy to see “a markedly gender inclusive tone.”

MaleSurvivor: the National Organization Against Male Sexual Victimization publicly praised USA Swimming upon the release of today’s report assessing the Safe Sport program.

“USA Swimming is to be commended for proactively engaging the National Child Protection Training Center (NCPTC) to undertake such an important review of USA Swimming’s Safe Sport program,” said MaleSurvivor Executive Director Christopher M. Anderson today.

“MaleSurvivor was honored to be asked to provide peer review of today’s report by NCPTC. We are happy to see that this report strikes a markedly gender inclusive tone. With over 100,000 male athlete members of USA Swimming, it is vital that any attempts to better protect children recognize that both boys and girls are potential victims, and that both men and women may be potential perpetrators. If accepted and implemented, many of the recommendations made by NCPTC in today’s report will have a positive impact. They will help ensure that the youth who come into contact with USA Swimming programs, staff, and volunteers will be better protected from all forms of child abuse, no matter where the abuse occurs. We especially support the recommendation for greater participation of the experience and voices of survivors in “develop[ing] effective policies and training” as including voice of survivors is too often overlooked in efforts to address child abuse.”

Research suggests that at between 10 and 25 percent of males in the US are survivors of sexual abuse. MaleSurvivor is the oldest and largest non-profit organization serving the needs of male survivors of sexual violence by building communities of hope, healing, and support for all survivors. Founded in 1993, MaleSurvivor provides support to hundreds of thousands of male survivors and their partners in recovery annually through a diverse range of programming, professional conferences and training, and outreach to survivors throughout the world.

The Women’s Sports Foundation seemed to be more down the middle regarding the report. While the WSF supported the report, and even states that it was part of the process with the Gunderson National Child Protection Training Center, it took issue with the people that have been chosen as part of the task force to create a plan to implement the recommendations.

Today the National Child Protection Training Center at Gundersen released When the Athlete is a Child: An Assessment of USA Swimming’s Safe Sport Program, authored by Victor Vieth, Executive Director Emeritus. The Assessment is an analysis of the efforts USA Swimming has undertaken since the 2010 media reports and ongoing lawsuits exposed a culture of hiding sexual abusers, and recommends dozens of changes to ensure the safety of the 93% of swimmers who are still children.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Senior Director of Advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF), worked closely with Mr. Vieth during the research and writing phase of the Assessment, and the WSF served as an official reviewer for the final draft of the Assessment.

Sexual, verbal and physical abuse is fundamentally inconsistent with the principles of the Olympic movement and youth serving organizations. While misconduct occurs at all levels of sports, the International Olympic Committee’s research demonstrates that abuse is more likely to exist in elite sport. (IOC, 2007) The Women’s Sports Foundation looks forward to the day when the protections listed in the Assessment are performed routinely, and sport is a safe haven for those participating.

The Assessment recognizes that USA Swimming still has those within its sport that are reluctant to take further steps to protect children. But experts in child protection know well that abusers operate best in organizations that seldom discuss child abuse, either because the topic makes them uncomfortable, or because they do not think it is a sporting organization’s responsibility to protect children from child abusers. The voices advocating for silence or simple solutions must not prevail.

The Assessment was not able to address the ongoing problem of known molesters that are not banned from the sport until the media or lawsuits are involved. USA Swimming possessed the necessary facts of molestation, but failed to carry out a ban against the molester, such as Rick Curl and Mitch Ivey. In those and other cases, it was not until outside pressure and Bob Allard, Esq. became involved that the coaches were banned.

Highlighted recommendations from the Assessment include:
· Centers for Disease Control’s (“CDC”) modeled training for both swimmers, parents and the disabled on sexual abuse; how to spot “grooming” behaviors and physical marks of abuse, how to report abuse, and educating all parties on the impermissibility of coach-athlete romantic or sexual relationships.
o Training should include the “Adverse Childhood Experience” (“ACE”) research, as well as research on how to boost victim resilience after abuse.
· Include experts into all aspects of Safe Sport, such as including juvenile sex offender treatment provider, pediatrician current with an expertise in abuse and sexual behaviors, and detectives/ prosecutors seasoned in investigating and responding to all types of sex offenses.
· Protect child athletes who are physically and emotionally abused, to the same level that athletes who are sexually abused should be protected.
· Follow the CDC recommendations on hiring and performing background checks, including:
o Eliminate the practice of grandfathering in coaches who were doing so prior to the enactment of the background checks.
o Be willing to discuss the club’s child protection policies, and include specific questions in the personal interview and require a signed receipt of such policies.
o Create model questions for parents to ask during hiring.
· Establish quality controls and written criteria for reports that are resolved informally, particularly when the coach is powerful or popular.
· Strengthen whistleblower and anti-retaliation prohibitions, so that victims aren’t excluded from the swimming community.
· Legal strategies to ban and publicly list those coaches that were not members when they abused a child, and are no longer members.
· Honor those that have worked to help bring about the changes to Safe Sport since 2010, as well as those who will do so in the future.
· Develop written materials for victims and families moving through the National Board of Review (NBOR) hearing process, including research that the process may help the victim recover emotionally from the abuse; or at least cause no further harm to the victim.
· Develop a process for prosecuting cases when victims are uncooperative or cannot be found; or when police or child protective custody reports are found to be unreliable.
· Establish a goal of a Safe Sport coordinator in every club, including liaisons with community child protection organizations that may assist efforts, and engaging survivors in Safe Sport initiatives.
· Research on a number of topics; including the prevalence of abuse within swimming, and the victimization of boys.
· Establish a victim assistance fund.
· Allow public access to NBOR decisions, especially for victims and researchers.
· Support an independent entity that will investigate and adjudicate sexually abusing coaches, so long as the entity is truly independent and is staffed with experts in the field, rather than those with strong employment histories within a sport. The separate requirements of independence and expertise will help dispel the current perception that “the fox is guarding the henhouse.”

Regarding the last point, the WSF was disappointed that USA Swimming did not follow the advice of the Assessment and put experts and independent voices on the taskforce that will review the recommendations.

The Women’s Sports Foundation is proud of its role in the final document. It is our intention that the 39 detailed recommendations in the Assessment will be adopted and modeled by all youth serving organizations. Recognizing that cultural change within USA Swimming will take time, the Women’s Sports Foundation urges USA Swimming to adopt these recommendations ahead of full-throated agreement by every member of the community.

Finally, Bob Allard, the lawyer who has represented some of the victims of sexual abuse in swimming, pretty much walked right past the entire concept of an independent review unless and until the current USA Swimming leadership is replaced.

In August of 2013, USA Swimming announced that the organization would pay a consultant to review its Safe Sport Program, which was implemented in 2010 following a strong denial by the organization that it had a problem with coaches sexually abusing young underage athletes. The report by paid consultant Victor Vieth, executive director of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center, was released today.

Media reports state that Vieth said he reviewed 150 files involving sexual abuse, and noted that one-third of those were not pursued by USA Swimming. And that weaknesses that remain in place will continue to make athletes vulnerable to predators unless they are addressed.

Mr. Robert Allard, attorney representing numerous victims of USA Swimming coaching abuse, released the following statement:

“True change cannot occur until USA Swimming’s corrupt leadership is removed. Under this leadership, a deeply embedded culture of perverted coach/athlete relationships has been allowed to fester. The countless past victims of sexual abuse as committed by their trusted swim coaches demand justice and this can only occur, as with Penn State, when those offenders who continually “looked the other way” so that they could focus on image, reputation and money are held fully accountable for their actions. This starts with job loss and continues, hopefully, with criminal investigations.”