I would like to respond to the article in this Sunday's Albany Herald which alleges, "Sex abuse rampant in youth swimming?"
This article would have parents questioning the integrity and safety of swimming as a suitable sport for their children. Judging from the article, one might easily assume that swimming is a dangerous place for their child. I take great issue with this article for many reasons, not the least of which is the number of inaccuracies and half truths put forth.
First of all, the article relates the alleged abuse of a young swimmer during the late 1960's. If true, she suffered a regrettable and tragic crime, and in no way do I condone or excuse the abuse, or dismiss the seriousness of her claim. Another athlete referred to in the article was abused in the late 1980s, 20 years after the first athlete's ordeal. Both of these swimmers are involved with a lawsuit claiming that the "culture of coaching in the sport of swimming" leads to rampant sexual abuse of athletes. After that, as far as I can tell, the article stops investigating the truth about this claim and continues to repeat the charges and allegations of these two individuals.
Regarding the claims of the inherent dangers of swimming, one claim made is that there are no background screenings, no protections for parents and swimmers to be sure that their coach is not a sexual predator. This is patently untrue. All potential swimming coaches for USA Swimming must submit to a criminal background check to be eligible for coaching. Membership is only permitted should this background check prove clean. This process is repeated every two years. In addition, as coach, I personally have had numerous criminal background checks and training for my teaching career (10 years as a public and private school educator), ongoing child safety training and checks with my church where I teach Sunday school. Many of the coaches involved in swimming also teach in public or private schools and must submit to criminal background checks in order to hold those positions.
On average, according to statistics gathered from separate studies done by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire and Hofstra University in Huntington, New York, approximately 500,000 claims of sexual abuse are made every year. Of those claims, approximately 40 percent, just over 200,000, are substantiated. Of the substantiated claims, 70-80 percent of the abuse is perpetrated by a parent or other relative (140,000-160,000). That means that 60 percent of the original claims (300,000) are dismissed or cannot be proven; 28-32 percent of the original claims are proven to be at the hands of a relative; 8-10 percent are by public school officials or employees. The remaining 0-4 percent of the perpetrators are strangers, doctors, clergy, neighbors, instructors, babysitters, private school officials or employees, or other individuals who may know the child.
The 30 coaches who are alleged to be guilty of this heinous crime were supposedly perpetrating their actions over a span of 40 years. Of the 30 coaches accused, only three were USA Swimming coaches. That would indicate that the number of swimming coaches involved in USA Swimming that have been accused (not proven) of sexual impropriety is miniscule compared to the cases that have been proven in other areas where children pursue their activities.
To allege that swimming is unsafe for your child, in the manner put forth in this article, is irresponsible, and salacious. USA Swimming, and myself personally, take great pains to ensure transparency, parent interaction, and child safety in the pool and around the pool deck for all our team members.
Jeff DeMott has coached the Flint River Rapids for 11 years. DeMott is an American Swimming Coaches Association Level 4 Coach and a member of the World Swim Coaches Association. He serves on the Georgia Zone Team Coaching staff and has earned the ASCA Award of Excellence.