Remembering and Honoring Sarah Burt Means Forcing Congressional Action Above and Beyond the Safe Sport Act of 2018

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February 22, 2018
Susan Woessner Resigns as USA Swimming’s Safe Sport Director After Being Called Out For Her Relationship With Sean Hutchison — A Coach She Then Investigated
February 22, 2018

by Irvin Muchnick

 

Earlier today we posted an item about the excellent Chris DeSantis open letter to USA Swimming, and accompanying petition. After linking to the recent first-person account of a victim’s, Ariana Kukors’, grooming and abuse at the hands of her coach, Sean Hutchison, the DeSantis letter notes: “There are many more. Sarah Burt killed herself after being molested by her swim coach.”

The link there by DeSantis goes to a long article Tim Joyce and I wrote in 2014, headlined “How the USA Swimming Sexual Abuse Scandals Became a Federal Case.” This was the opening paragraph:

 

“Sarah Burt was an outstanding student and competitive swimmer who loved teaching younger kids to swim. But on June 29, 2010, she drove her car to a busy intersection in rural Illinois, 20 minutes from Peoria. She parked, exited, and ended years of private torment by hurling herself in front of a semi-truck. Sarah was 16.”

 

The passage is brief and bloodless. For a fuller flavor of Sarah, whose promising life got prematurely snuffed out in the fallout of abuse, Concussion Inc. is reproducing below our note about her from three months ago. It includes in-depth coverage in 2011 from her local newspaper in Illinois, the Woodford Times.

Refocusing on Sarah Burt is important now for a number of reasons, only one of which is obvious. The obvious reason is that remembering her helps attach real names and faces — and tragic consequences — to the story of systematic and covered-up youth sports coach abuse.

Among the less obvious reasons is that Congress has just passed, and President Trump has signed, the Safe Sport Act. This new law marks improvements along the margins, in the statutory mandate for reporting abuse. However, in the view of many of us, it falls far short of addressing the structural teardown and rebuild of national sport governing bodies that will be required in order to reverse the historical acceptance and normalization of abuse inside institutions and to install active federal oversight and accountability.

OK — real change is often incremental. But the accompanying danger, during the national catharsis that has followed the brave victim impact testimony of USA Gymnastics stars at the sentencing hearing of their molester Larry Nassar, is a false sense that that’s all there is. When that most definitely is not all there is.

This is why Congress must forge ahead, Safe Sport Act or not, with comprehensive hearings that promise to reveal for the public the full scope of the abuse problem across all sports. Two House of Representatives standing committees have signaled that they are willing. Whoever takes this on, it is not a function rightly relegated to the crabbed complaint procedures of the new and “independent” — yet, please note, still U.S. Olympic Committee-branded — National Center for Safe Sport.

More stories need to be told to the American people, and the hearing rooms of Capitol Hill are the place to tell them.

Stories such as Sarah Burt’s.

 

*****

 

In the Swirl of Newly Emerging Abuse Stories, Stop to Remember Sarah Burt — Again

Published November 13th, 2017

by Irvin Muchnick

As countless stories of deeply damaging, and mostly male, sexual misconduct unspool fashionably across all manner of industries and walks of life, I again urge those processing this new flood of news to remember victims of amateur sports coach abuse. It is one of the most easily and specifically addressed categories of the problem. Further, its victims — kids participating in extracurricular athletics — are among the least enfranchised and most vulnerable.

Take swimming, a focus of my now nearly six years of investigation.

And please, take another look at the story of Sarah Burt. My colleague Tim Joyce and I used Sarah as the lead anecdote of our 2014 article, “How the USA Swimming Sexual Abuse Scandals Became a Federal Case,” https://concussioninc.net/?p=9501:

 

“Sarah Burt was an outstanding student and competitive swimmer who loved teaching younger kids to swim. But on June 29, 2010, she drove her car to a busy intersection in rural Illinois, 20 minutes from Peoria. She parked, exited, and ended years of private torment by hurling herself in front of a semi-truck. Sarah was 16.”

 

Another treatment of Sarah’s story was published in 2011 in a local newspaper, the Woodford Times, at http://www.woodfordtimes.com/article/20110907/NEWS/309079947. After her suicide, a school friend, “Liz,” came forward to the authorities and got a measure of justice in her own abuse scenario.

“Lots of kids and adults don’t speak out to the police,” her mother told the newspaper reporter. “Sarah wrote about the abuse in her journal. Someone read it and we became aware. She went to the police eventually.” But there was to be no prosecution in Sarah’s case.

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