by Tim Joyce and Irvin Muchnick
A Western Massachusetts mother who lodged formal complaints to USA Swimming that her daughter was violently and serially raped by her USA Swimming coach — beginning when the girl was 13 years old – was recently told that the girl’s file was closed for lack of evidence.
The notification from USA Swimming’s Liz Hoendervoogt, the athlete protection coordinator, was clinically delivered in a FedEx envelope on September 5 – just five days after the mother’s comprehensive conversation with Victor Vieth, the child-abuse expert who has taken what is believed to be a six-figure contract to produce a review of this U.S. Olympic Committee sports body’s “safe sport” program.
Concussion Inc. is exposing the story of USA Swimming’s handling of this family (whose name we are withholding) while federal investigators continue with their now five-month-long probe of USA Swimming sex abuse, in anticipation of a report Congressman George Miller has requested from the Government Accountability Office.
Of all the cases that we have written about over the last two years, this vile tale of abuse is perhaps the most comprehensive microcosm of all that is wrong with USA Swimming and local swim clubs. Every possible sinister aspect is found here: rape, fear, intimidation, retaliation, and finally negligence on the part of USA Swimming. It continues a troubling trend of an utter lack of vigilance by USA Swimming and makes a mockery of their statements that say things have changed since the Safe Sport program was created in 2010.
A few basic facts of the case:
· The rapes and abuse occurred for several years before the coach — who was in his 50’s at the time the abuse started — was confronted.
· On Columbus Day of 2012, the mother gave Susan Woessner, USA Swimming director of safe sport, the details of all that occurred, including a letter from the Division of Children and Families, which supported the veracity of the girl’s claims. Woessner than told the mother to speak with Liz Hoendervoogt. But after the coach shockingly won an appeal against the office of Children’s Services on a technicality, USA Swimming, in the mother’s words, “seemed to lose all interest in the case.”
· The coach was terminated by the club, a YMCA, but the Y never publicly informed the staff or member families why the coach was removed. The Y also instructed employees not to discuss the case with anyone.
· The Y did tell the Division of Children and Families (DCF) upon hearing of the abuse. An investigation resulted and the DCF concluded the girl was telling the truth.
· A female coach of the club, who was also a high school coach at the time, did not report the alleged crime.
· The mother gave USA Swimming consultant Vieth a complete accounting of what occurred during their phone conversation in late August of this year.
· USA Swimming’s investigator, Nancy Fisher, spoke with the family, but apparently with no one else at the club.
· The only way to have any disciplinary action against the coach would be for the victim to speak at a swimming National Board of Review hearing – a process the mother calls “a kangaroo court.” (The young woman, now a successful university student, has exhibited a heroic level of strength, courage and determination in dealing with her past abuse.)
· The girl suffered retaliation and ridicule from other swimmers and families. The girl’s family, long-time financials supporters of the Y, also suffered retaliation.
· According to sources, there were at least two other girls abused by this coach over the last decade.
What is so alarming about all of this is best summed up in the words of the girl’s mother: “Sadly, I am sure another 13 year-old wannabe Olympian is being abused right now.”
USA Swimming does not respond to Concussion Inc.’s inquiries, and the organization is on record as stating that this practice is a policy.
Chris Stauffer of corporate communications for Gundersen Health System, whose National Child Protection Training Center is directed by Victor Vieth, emailed us, “Victor Vieth’ s report is not complete and until that time he will respectfully decline to comment.”
Our unanswered questions to Vieth are:
1-Is it true that you spoke with this victim’s mother about an incident of abuse by a USA Swimming coach?
2-The victim’s mother told us that she received word, via FedEx letter from USA Swimming, that it was closing the file. Were you aware of this?
3-Do you agree with USA Swimming’s action? Will that be incorporated in your upcoming report?
4-To repeat a question asked earlier: How much are you being paid by USA Swimming?