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Sex Abuse Lawsuits: Punish the Abuser, Deter Conduct?

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you are aware of the sex abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church. If hierarchy spent as much time supervising and managing its priests as it does covering up their despicable activities and defending lawsuits filed as the result, they would decrease incidents of this behavior.

A less well known “scandal” involves USA Swimming, which has been under investigation recently for its handling of alleged sexual abuse cases. A lawsuit was recently filed in Santa Clara, CA alleging that more than 30 coaches nationwide have engaged in sexual misconduct with teen girls. Last month, USA Swimming, a 1972 Olympic swimmer disclosed she was molested by her coach in the 1960s. A recent ABC News “20/20” investigation revealed that 36 coaches have been banned from USA Swimming due to alleged sexual misconduct.

The latest claim has been made against a swim coach. A lawsuit has been filed accusing the coach of “grooming a, then, 17 year old teen for a sexual relationship, with providing her alcohol, and, ultimately, with having inappropriate sexual contact with her.” At the time, he was coaching at the Kansas City Dolphins Swim Club in Blue Springs, MO. The sexual abuse allegedly took place between the summer 2006 and fall 2007. After learning about the misconduct in May 2008, the teen’s parents filed a formal complaint with a supervisor, demanding that the coach be barred from coaching. The supervisor fired the coach in April and he moved out of town. The victim’s family was also told that this coach would not coach again, but when the supervisor who fired him became head coach at a Virginia swim club, he hired the same offending coach as his assistant!

This sounds just like the type of conduct that permeates the Church: Cover-up, transfer, cover-up. Did the former supervisor, now coach think he could just push acts of sexual misconduct under the water? The lawsuit also alleges that USA Swimming did not promptly and adequately investigate the claims, and that the Missouri swim club did not provide a safe environment for its swimmers. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages stating that the victim suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. The offending coach has been suspended from a Virginia swimming club until further investigations are conducted.

The reports against USA Swimming are quite disturbing. Knowing this situation required immediate attention, USA Swimming announced that they would be implementing a “7-Point Action Plan” to protect its young swimmers. They plan to develop new guidelines for coaches, enhance their reporting system, and upgrading their background screening program.

Are you asking yourself the same questions I am? Why weren’t these swimmers protected when allegations of sexual abuse were originally brought to their attention? What protective systems were currently in place? Why did it take so long to address these serious problems? How did these coaches pass background screenings? Did USA Swimming learn nothing from the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church? No child should ever suffer sexual abuse from anyone; this is especially true of those we entrust our children’s safety to, like coaches and priests. The safety and welfare of children should be our country’s highest priority.

USA Swimming says that it has done background checks on all coaching candidates since 2006; they claim that they screen for charges involving sexual misconduct and illegal drug use. Of course, if that was the case, the coach in question would never have been hired at the Virginia swim club. As an attorney who has handled Catholic priest abuse cases, it continues to boggle my mind that supervisors would not only tolerate or permit sexual abuse to children, but also cover it up and transfer the offender to re-offend!

Parents are the ultimate weapon in this battle; they need to play an active role in protecting our children. Talk to your kids; explain what physical acts of conduct are and are not acceptable. Furthermore, explain to them that they need to be open and honest with you. If they feel someone is approaching them in an inappropriate or questionable manner, they need to tell you right away. Reporting sexual misconduct is the best way to bring a predator to justice and prevent him/her from harming others.

If you or someone you love has been a victim of sexual abuse, it is important to contact the authorities immediately. You should also seek legal counsel from an attorney who specializes in sexual abuse cases. Lawsuit Financial, the pro-justice lawsuit funding company, has a free referral program that will assist you in finding an attorney. The call is free; the advice is priceless.