A week after an explosive report detailed alleged widespread sexual abuse amid USA Swimming, the organization sent a letter to its members Thursday describing its commitment to protecting children and athletes.
The report, a thorough investigation published last Friday by the Orange County Register, described USA Swimming’s “inability to check swimming’s culture of sexual abuse” that resulted in “hundreds of new young victims.” The report, which went in depth into years of USA Swimming — which oversees hundreds of amateur swimming clubs around the country in addition to the Olympic program — failing to prevent the abuse of young swimmers, often involving coaches, was published after reporters scoured “thousands of pages of documents.”
In response, Tim Hinchey, USA Swimming’s President and CEO, said in the letter that the organization “does not tolerate sexual abuse or misconduct” and is “facing this extremely serious issue with one very clear goal — protecting children and athletes.”
“Every day we work hard to get better as an organization. We are never complacent. We want to listen and to hear from you,” Hinchey’s letter reads, addressing his members. “We are rightfully held to a high standard by our membership and our peers, and we will continue to work tirelessly to educate members, put policies in place, and empower clubs to create the best possible environments for all members.
“We will not shy away from acknowledging or supporting survivors of abuse, and we will strive to ensure that there is never a lapse of a support system again. We will continue to work hand-in-hand with survivors, the U.S. Center for Safe Sport, and law enforcement to hold wrongdoers accountable and remove them from our organization.”
Hinchey noted in the letter that USA Swimming “disagrees on several of the reported statements and many of the conclusions in recent media reports,” but did acknowledge that members of USA Swimming “were failed.”
“We are doing everything we can to make sure it never happens again,” he said. “Our system of uncovering sexual abuse is not flawless, but it has enabled USA Swimming to detect and prosecute members who have engaged in this misconduct. Every year we have endeavored to make our sport safer for our athletes and other members than the year before.”
In the letter, Hinchey pointed to USA Swimming’s Safe Sport program that, since 2010, has “mandated abuse prevention training, and created a public list of individuals banned for sexual misconduct-related violations in a continued effort to identify and remove offenders from the sport.”
USA Swimming director of Safe Sport Susan Woessner, who resigned Thursday along with club development managing director Pat Hogan, was pointed to specifically in the OC Register report as an official — one of many — who allegedly had knowledge of sexually predatory coaches. The program, especially under Woessner, was described in the report as ineffective.
“Another indication of USA Swimming’s lack of commitment to the sexual abuse issue is its funding of the Safe Sport program. The organization spent $345,470 on the program in 2016, substantially less than a third of the $1 million USA Swimming spent on its Golden Goggles award gala. Safe Sport was implemented in September 2010 in the wake of criticism of USA Swimming’s handling of sexual abuse case. USA Swimming officials said they hoped the move would mitigate against the appearances of “the fox guarding the hen house” that had hounded previous cases, according to a USA Swimming memo.
“What sends a bigger signal is that they hired somebody who had no background in any aspect of safe sport,” Hogshead-Makar said of Woessner. “The fact that they continuously hire people that have no prior experience. They have the money to hire the best person in the country and they don’t.”
Woessner, a former Indiana University swimmer, oversees the investigating and adjudication of sexual abuse cases as well as guidelines and educational programs dealing with the issue. Prior to being named director of Safe Sport in Sept. 2013, Woessner worked in USA Swimming’s business operations and national team division. Neither of those positions dealt with safe sport.
“Susan Woessner doesn’t have the background for the job,” said Hogshead-Makar. “She’s not a lawyer. She’s never worked with victims of abuse (prior to getting the job). She doesn’t have the professional background to do these types of cases. Susan was somebody hired from within USA Swimming who doesn’t have the expertise for the job.”
Hinchey said USA Swimming is fully committed to the Safe Sport program.
“The key aspect to the success of the Safe Sport program is for every member to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity that might be a violation of our Code of Conduct. We simply cannot assume that those being abused will voluntarily come forward, even if given the opportunity to do so in a confidential manner,” he said.
“In order to be successful, it will require your active participation. Working together we can strive to completely eradicate sexual abuse from our organization.”