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Swimming in Sex Abuse

A recent Berkeley criminal case and a new lawsuit suggest that sex abuse by swim coaches is widespread and that officials aren't doing enough to stop it.



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"When asked by Det. Dunn, 'Before you guys had sex was she in a position to give consent? Either through what she said or did?' Stovall answered: there was no point in Florida where she was intoxicated enough to not give consent.

Detective Dunn stated, 'So you got together twice. The second time was she able to give consent?' Stovall answered: The whole time there she was never laying on the ground drunk. She was able to give consent.

Detective Dunn asked, 'Did you use a condom?' Stovall stated: Don't want to answer the question, it's a personal issue.

Detective Dunn asked, 'Could she be pregnant?' Stovall answered: How do I know if she's been with other guys.

Detective Dunn asked, 'Does you wife know anything about this?' Stovall answered, 'It's personal.'

Detective Dunn asked, 'Did you tell her about Florida?' He answered, 'Ya.'

Detective Dunn asked, 'What happened?' Stovall replied: She didn't like it. Detective Dunn asked, 'Did you wear a condom with [the victim]' Stovall answered: I always wear a condom except with my wife.

Detective Dunn spoke with Stovall about the appropriateness of a 35 year old having sex with a 16 year old. Stovall replied he had no 'intentions' and stated he 'cared about [the victim]' and did not want to hurt her. Stovall stated he did not know how [the victim] felt about the incident as he has not spoken to her about it."

Later, during phone calls between Stovall and Allison's father that were recorded by police, Stovall denied that he had sex with Allison but said he "exercised extremely poor judgment taking a teenager to Florida. It's been a real nightmare. There's no [way] I can defend myself or anything. I'm sorry. I don't know what to say." When Allison's father asked whether Stovall used protection or if he needed to take his daughter to the doctor, he stated, "No. She's completely healthy. She's fine."

After word got out that Stovall was arrested, Strawberry Canyon Aquatic Masters did not renew his contract, which was about to expire, according to team president, Susan Garfin. Bear Swimming's Gary Firestone says that he told parents to tell their kids about the allegations but "to make it very clear — we didn't know all the facts and we have no idea — there's no verdict." Yet by that point, Firestone says "almost nobody on the team knew Jesse" except some of the older kids because Bear Swimming had so many new swimmers due to the team's relocation, the natural turnover rate, and some parents who had "personality" conflicts with Stovall.

Muchnick, however, insists that Bear Swimming officials did not tell students about what had happened. "The party line at Bear Swimming is there's nothing wrong, there's some misunderstanding," he said. "So they haven't really told." Muchnick said that he recently spoke to a father of a kid who's still on the team and that he wasn't aware of the allegations. "He said, 'We deserve to be told about this,'" Muchnick said.

"So I believe at this point that a letter needs to go out explaining to people what happened and what's being done about it and soliciting information," Muchnick added. "The counter argument to that is you can create a frenzy around people magnifying innocent things in the past. But to take the 180-degree opposite tack — the people who've spent thousands of dollars in dues and have entrusted their sons and daughters to these people for hundreds of hours to not even be informed, I think, is outrageous."

USA Swimming spokeswoman Olsen said that the national board of review banned Jesse Stovall for life on October 15, 2009. But the ban only applies to USA Swimming's membership clubs, and so it's not reassuring to Muchnick. "It sounds like the Catholic Church, their database of priests," he said. "I mean, what's to keep this guy, no matter what happens in the criminal trial, from surfacing somewhere else. ... Have we sent a letter out to people, the past and present families, who have a right to know about this? Are we sure that this is the only incident of this sort? I don't think we're serving our daughters and sons by just creating all kinds of taboos around this. It happened, let's deal with it, let's report it, and let's put things in place to keep it from happening again."

One Bay Area swimming coach who kept molesting his swimmers again and again was Andrew King. And USA Swimming's background screening policy would not have thrown up red flags about him, either. The reason is that the policy only screens out coaches who have been charged or convicted of sexual abuse, and so even though there were numerous complaints about King and evidence that USA Swimming knew he was a predator, he was free to keep spending time with kids.

For example, when King was coaching at Chabot College in Hayward in the 1990s, according to the suit Allard filed last month, one swimmer overheard coaches for Pacific Swimming, a division of USA Swimming, calling King a "pedophile," a "child molester," and that "he was sleeping with his swimmers." And yet King was allowed to keep coaching and was subsequently hired at other clubs.