News & Opinion » Feature

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.



Page 5 of 5

In addition, one female swimmer told Pacific Swimming and USA Swimming that King was forcing her and others to "engage in sexual acts in front of other team members, under the penalty of a more rigorous swim practice session if any of the team members refused to participate." Yet after King denied the charges, the matter was dropped.

Police reports and a public hearing about King's behavior also did not prevent him from landing a job at San Jose Aquatics in 2000, where he ultimately sexually molested and abused Allard's client. In fact, USA Swimming approved him for employment, saying, "[Mr. King's] background screening has been thoroughly reviewed and meets the qualification standards set by US Swimming."

Part of the problem, Allard said, is that USA Swimming does not have a formal way to file complaints. "Saliently lacking from their procedures is any grievance procedure at all," he said. "You have to ... hope someone returns your phone call," he said. "It's unbelievable. It's a system designed to deter and not encourage the reporting of abuse."

In light of the recent lawsuit, Olsen said USA Swimming is considering amending its program to improve education to athletes and coaches about inappropriate behavior, as well as "educating clubs on hiring practices and the kinds of screening they should do on a club-level — not just relying on the criminal background check." Another possibility is allowing complaints to be made anonymously. Olsen suggested that clubs check references such as former swimmers and co-workers, and check driving records.

Firestone said that Bear Swimming now runs criminal background checks on all its potential coaches and that the team is more parent-run than coach-run these days. Still, he acknowledged that even if Bear Swimming had checked into Stovall at the time they hired him using the current procedures, he still would have gotten the job because his record was "clean" prior to taking Allison alone to Florida.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story misidentified a USA Swimming official who developed the organization's background-check policy.