The current news story that has my blood boiling is the revelation that the USA Gymnastics ignored repeated allegations of sexual abuse by at least fifty coaches. This decades-long pattern of abuse is reminiscent of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, especially in light of the duration of the crime spree.
I am a volunteer coach in a children's athletic program- for three hours every Saturday from October to March, parents trust their children to my care, and the children trust me to treat them in a morally sound way. The very idea of betraying these trusts is repellent to me, but the tragedy of sexual abuse is that it usually doesn't involve 'stranger danger'. The majority of sexual abuse cases involve predators who are trusted- family members, friends, teachers, clergy, coaches. There is no worse betrayal than the victimization of children.
One of my heroes is 2012 Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison, who is competing again in Brazil this year. She is a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of her coach, and advocates for young sexual abuse survivors. Among her future plans is authoring a book for middle-schoolers to inform them about the dangers of sexual abuse: “I’m writing a book with a psychologist which is intended to be a guideline of what sexual abuse is and I want that book to be in your seventh grade kid’s class curriculum.”
I consider myself fortunate to have met Ms Harrison on a number of occasions- she visits our dojo and teaches our kids at least once a year. I can't think of a braver, more generous individual. She went through hell and not only survived, but she thrives, and she fights to protect others from the horrors that she faced. You can be sure that I will promote her book when it comes out.
It boggles my mind that abusive coaching regimes can operate for so long in so many organizations- I chalk it up to a culture that considers women and children disposable and a win-at-all-costs mentality that protects abusers so long as they produce team victories. The pervasiveness of perverts is something which needs to be rooted out of sports organizations. My colleagues and I submitted to background checks and drug tests after the Penn State sex abuse scandal came to light, and we have a policy that no adult is alone with a kid at any time. We saw what happened in 'Happy Valley' and made sure we were above reproach. We owed it to our kids, we owed it to Kayla.