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USA Swimming Cracks Down on Sexual Misconduct

The #MeToo social media campaign has uncovered several instances of sexual abuse and inspired many athletes to speak up, including gymnast McKayla Maroney. After this public outcry, a Washington Post investigation discovered that over 290 coaches and officials associated with United States Olympic sports organizations have received public sexual misconduct accusations since 1982.

USA Swimming remains no exception. An Outside Magazine article ousted the governing body in 2014 and reported various instances of sexual abuse. In addition, Gunderson Health published a 125-page report on the USA Swimming Safe Sport program. The report acknowledged that although some improvements occurred, swimmers still remained unprotected from abuse.

The researchers recommended several changes, including equal layers of protection for all children in the sport; improvements for screening and background checks; requiring student athletes and parents to take the Safe Sport training; further development of the two-deep leadership model; protection for people who report abuses; improvement of investigations; and stricter enforcement of rules.

On March 31st, 2017, attorneys Robert Allard and Jon Little, as well as Olympic swimmer and Champion Women CEO Nancy Hogshead-Makar, sent a letter to U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun. In this letter, the three advocated for the removal of USA Swimming’s executive director, Chuck Wielgus, who is now deceased.

“The USOC must send a message that the Olympic movement will no longer tolerate those leaders who have actively harbored abusers and failed to address the culture that fosters sex abuse,” the letter read.

Since these scandals came to light, the organization has taken steps to protect players and prevent sexual abuse. USA Swimming conducts background checks on employees and most volunteers (excluding auxiliary positions like timers), according to section 305.4 of the 2017 USA Swimming Rulebook. Part of this background check includes investigation of child abuse and sexual crimes.

USA Swimming has implemented various athlete protection policies under article 305, including no inappropriate touching between an athlete and an adult non-member. Furthermore, the USA Swimming Best Practice Guidelines emphasizes the two-deep leadership model, where the coach cannot conduct practices or events without another adult present.

The code additionally prevents coaches from engaging in any relationships with former athletes. Coaches cannot date athletes until they have spent two years after cessation or termination, but the organization discourages these relationships.

USA Swimming also has a ban list – excluding minors – that details athletes’ or employees’ names, the state they’re from, their length of suspension, and the specific code of conduct sections violated.  Anyone on that list cannot stand in proximity with other athletes or attend USA swimming events, thus protecting athletes.

The organization additionally mandates reporting sexual misconduct, outlined in article 306.

“Reporting must occur when an individual has firsthand knowledge of misconduct or where specific and credible information has been received from a victim or knowledgeable third party,” the report says.

This year, USA Swimming hosted a couple of workshops, which included a few addressing sexual assault: Understanding Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse, Safe Sport at Meets, and Safe Sport 101.

Both athletes and coaches must adhere to these strict policies. For example, swimmers sign the Model Athlete Code of Conduct, which contains a provision regarding sexual misconduct.

“I will be respectful of my teammates’ feelings and personal space. Swimmers who exhibit sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise inappropriate behavior will be faced with consequences,” the code says.

After making these changes, it seems USA Swimming has finally cracked down on sexual misconduct. Action has already been taken in accordance with these new rules – for instance, it banned two coaches for life in November, as well as Stanford swimmer Brock Turner after his horrifying sexual assault crimes came to public light.

All USOC governing bodies still have a long way to go in the battle against sexual abuse, but USA Swimming has at least taken steps in the right direction. These changes should reduce the amount of mishandled or unreported cases and ensure greater protection for athletes.

Featured Image by Jason Parrish on Flickr

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