Alleged Sex Abuse Victims Call on USA Swimming to Work With Them to Protect Kids

Alleged Sex Abuse Victims Call on USA Swimming to Work With Them to Protect KidsABC News
Swim coach Andrew King, pictured here with a young swimmer in an undated photo, was suspended for life by USA Swimming. Authorities say that King sexually abused young girls for years until a 14-year-old California victim finally turned him in.

On the heels of USA Swimming's announcement that it is considering new child protection safeguards for the sport of swimming, alleged sex abuse victims and parents say they have yet to hear from USA Swimming directly.

"They should be at the club. They should be supporting the investigation with the police. They should be talking to the kids," said Chuck Thompson, the father of a teen swimmer molested by now imprisoned San Jose swim coach Andy King. "They are the governing body for hundreds of swim clubs. They are the leadership of these clubs. They should take the responsibility to drive the policies that protect the kids. I don't see that happening."

An ABC News "20/20" report last week examined how King moved from club to club on the West Coast, abusing more than a dozen teen female swimmers over three decades.

VIDEO: Brian Ross Investigates Molestation in U.S. SwimmingPlay

WATCH PART 1 of the 20/20 investigation.

WATCH PART 2 of the 20/20 investigation.

In an email on Sunday, USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus told member coaches that he was "extremely sorry" if the organization had not done enough to protect kids, but many of the individual victims say they have yet to hear from Weilgus directly.

Weilgus also announced the organization would establish an anonymous hotline for victims to report abuse, and said the organization was "continually studying" what other youth organizations were doing to address the problem of child sexual abuse.

SLIDESHOW: Rogues' Gallery of Swim Coaches

Former swimmers who say they were abused by King as teens called the anonymous hotline a "good start," but also raised concerns that USA Swimming was not acting swiftly and aggressively enough to address the failures exposed by the King case.

Debra Denithorne, who was coached by King in the 1980s, said she would like to see USA Swimming mandate yearly training for athletes, coaches and officials to help them recognize inappropriate behavior.

"I think the primary focus should be education," said Denithorne, who told 20/20 that she had been sexually abused by King for years starting at age 11. "It's so important to empower young athletes with a vocabulary and a dialogue to be able to label what's happening, and to be able to say 'no, it's not okay' when it's actually happening."

VIDEO: Inside USA SwimmingPlay

Gretchen Dahla Ash, a swimmer who said she was harassed and molested by King in the 1980s, said she wanted to see USA Swimming take more responsibility for screening its member coaches.

"They need to set some funds aside to do more thorough background checks," said Ash, who now works as a crime prevention officer for a local police department. "Coaches and parents at these local club boards aren't going to know where to go and what questions to ask."

Local Swim Club Asks USA Swimming to Improve Background Screenings

King's last employer, San Jose Aquatics, said in a statement that it had "conducted reference checks on King with former coaches, colleagues, supervisors, and parents prior to hiring him." A spokeswoman said the club "encouraged USA swimming to adopt more rigorous policies" for background screening and handling of complaints.

The spokeswoman also said that the club had formalized a "buddy policy" requiring all swimmers to have another person present while alone with a coach, club employee or volunteer, after the revelation that a teen swimmer had been repeatedly molested inside a shed housed at the high school where the club trained.

Caren Bonnet, another King victim, said that she would like to see USA Swimming require such policies at its member clubs across the country.

"There need to be rules against one-on-one time with coaches and swimmers," said Caren Bonnet, who was repeatedly molested by King in the late 1980s and 1990s. "There should always be a chaperone, parent, another athlete, another coach so that these opportunities don't present themselves."

Boy Scouts of America and US Gymnastics have adopted policies to minimize the one on one time between kids and adults. Boy Scouts of America strictly prohibits "one-on-one" contact between adults and youth member. Last year, US Gymnastics adopted new "standards of behavior" including guidance for coaches to "avoid being alone with a minor."

In a recent interview with ABC News' Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross, USA Swimming's Chuck Wielgus said the organization is currently studying the "three in a room rule," which would require a chaperone to be present at all times.

"I think it might be a very good idea," Wielgus said.

Olympic Gold Medalist: Who is USA Swimming Working With?

Olympic gold medalist Deena Deardurff Schmidt said she wants to know who USA Swimming is consulting as it evaluates its policies and drafts new safeguards.

"Are they working with any victims? Are there any women who are involved in this?" asked Schmidt, who recently went public with her allegations that a coach who helped her reach the Olympics in 1972 had molested her over a period of years starting when she was 11.

Schmidt said she received a letter from Wielgus on Monday, the first time she had heard from USA Swimming since going public with her story three weeks ago. She said Wielgus wrote that, to his knowledge, USA Swimming had never turned a blind eye to issues of inappropriate conduct by coaches.

In addition to announcing the anonymous hotline, Wielgus' email emphasized the role of parents and the local clubs. Alluding to the "20/20" report, he said that the sport of swimming "has been portrayed in a very bad light."

Click here to read the full letter to swim coaches.

"I don't think anyone's intent is to put a blemish on USA Swimming," said Ash. "We love the sport, we've always love the sport. It brought a lot of good things to our lives, and we just want to see change. We don't want this to happen to young girls again, in any youth sport."


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