In late August, 2013, USA Swimming contracted with the National Child Protection Training Center, a program of Gundersen Health System, to conduct an independent assessment of USA Swimming’s Safe Sport program. Specifically, Gundersen Health System was asked to review the following target areas:
- policies and procedures
- screening and selection
- education and training
- monitoring and supervision
- recognizing, reporting and responding
- grassroots engagement and feedback
The Scope of Review and Processes Followed
In assessing these areas, we compared USA Swimming’s Safe Sport program against guidelines proposed by the Centers for Disease Control in 2007, as well as child protection policies in international swimming bodies. We reviewed several thousand pages of documents pertaining to every banned or suspended coach in the history of USA Swimming as well as files of coaches or others investigated that were not sanctioned. We also interviewed 57 witnesses connected to the sport of swimming or who were subject matter experts that could assist us in our analysis. We also had our final report reviewed by a number of child protection experts.
Policies and Guidelines
From 1980-2009, USA Swimming had a number of child protection policies. However, these policies fell below the 2007 CDC guidelines for youth serving organizations. Although some children were protected, and some coaches expelled, the policies proved ineffectual in many instances. In 2010, the weaknesses in these policies were brought to light in a series of national media accounts of athletes sexually abused within USA Swimming. Witnesses we spoke with describe the impact of media coverage as “changing the will” of the organization and making it clear reforms were in order.
Working initially with the Child Welfare League of America and using as its baseline the aforementioned CDC guidelines, USA Swimming made significant policy changes, tightened its policies, and hired employees to work exclusively on improving the organization’s response to sexual misconduct.
The policies implemented were directly targeted to address previous risk factors and were compatible with the CDC guidelines. Since Safe Sport went into effect, the organization has seen a marked increase in reports of abuse—more reports in the past three years than in the previous 20 years. The files we reviewed reveal a number of successes in the handling of child abuse cases. Even so, there are a number of remaining weaknesses that leave some children at risk.