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Thursday, October 22, 2020
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Clear case of recent sexual harassment ignored by SafeSport after banning athletes for unsubstantiated claims from decades ago

Bullying & Sexual Harassment SafeSport Case Study

Athletes for equity 3*Names have been changed to protect privacy of those involved. The facts of this case occurred.*

Scenario

A successful and internationally competitive female swimmer had been struggling with bullying by a team mate since 2018.

While the female swimmer was winning at World Championships and qualifying for the Olympics, her bully was gaining recognition as a successful coach and gaining more control of teams, bus assignments, and practice schedules.

Gradually, the bully began communicating with the female swimmer with unkind words that ranged from hurtful to sexually suggestive.

These comments made the female athlete uncomfortable and interfered with her focus during team practices.

 

THE STIGMA of filing a formal complaint against the bully with other coaches or the NGB seemed daunting and she feared would potentially result in retaliation from coaching staff or fellow team mates, and the female swimmer decided to stay silent.

One evening in 2019 at a fund-raising party, the bully was verbally abusive to the female athlete, after becoming visibly intoxicated.

In an act that was caught on camera, the bully grabbed the female athlete without permission and sexually harassed her in front of colleagues and party attendees.

The female athlete contacted an attorney and filed a SafeSport report.

The NGB was also contacted because the bully was at the time a team coach.

The formal SafeSport process began and a single investigator conducted interviews and reviewed the video footage of the assault on the female swimmer.

After a considerable amount of time passing, the female swimmer had received no communication from SafeSport regarding her claim.

The coach had not received any public sanctions and was still employed by the Swim Club and interacted daily with the swimmer, which made her uncomfortable.

Seemingly, neither SafeSport nor the NGB did their mandated jobs under the Ted Stevens Act.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

Why did SafeSport fail to take action in this case?

Why was video evidence of a sexual assault not enough for SafeSport to take immediate action against the bully coach?

How can SafeSport impose sanctions in cases involving allegations of wrongdoing that happened decades in the past and were not witnessed, but not act on a current allegation with multiple witnesses and video footage to support the claim?

Who can question SafeSport investigators on their timeline and decision making process?

What safeguards are in place to detect and minimize arbitrary decision making in the SafeSport resolution process to ensure the SafeSport Code of Conduct is applied uniformly and that the investigation and resolution process is fair for both Claimants and Respondents?

CONCLUSION

The SafeSport system using the single investigator model is inadequate for the complex cases that SafeSport is presented with.

The decision making process of SafeSport investigators seems arbitrary and inconsistent.

In order for the system to work fairly, the SafeSport process must display more objectivity and transparency to protect the rights and interests of all parties who come under its jurisdiction.

In the aforementioned case, the outcome of this case weakened the confidence of others that have previously been assaulted from coming forward and helps enables a painful cycle of abuse between coaches and athletes to continue.

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