Months after Larry Nassar, a doctor convicted of sexually abusing female gymnasts was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for criminal sexual conduct, Ariana Kukors Smith, an Olympic swimmer has filed suit against her former coach, USA Swimming, and others, claiming her coach sexually abused her when she was a minor. She also alleges that the national governing body and its leaders were aware of the abuse.
Smith, 28, claims that her coach began grooming her when she was 13-years-old and molesting her by the time she was 16. She said USA Swimming, the governing body of the sport in the United States, was aware of the alleged abuse but did nothing to stop it.
Earlier this year during the time of the Nassar trial, USA Swimming wrote a letter to its members stating that the organization was reviewing its current Safe Sport Abuse-prevention efforts and outlining priorities and initiatives for the future.
“Our top priority is the safety and well-being of our members, and that is paramount in everything we do. USA Swimming strives to better educate and prevent abuse within the sport and to provide the best possible experience for its members, in the safest possible environments.” The letter was signed by James Sheehan, USA Swimming Board of Directors Chair and Tim Hinchey III, USA Swimming President and CEO.
The letter said that since 2010, we (USA Swimming) have made great efforts in education, awareness, and oversight with USA Swimming’s Safe Sport program. “Safe Sport Champions are raising awareness of abuse and prevention and doing education at the zone, LSC, and club levels.”
Smith, a member of the 2012 US Olympic swim team and a former world record holder in the 200-meter individual medley and a world champion in the 100-meter individual medley, said in her press briefing this week, that the organization was aware that the athlete and coach were engaged in a sexual relationship when she was 16-years-old in 2006.
According to the lawsuit: “Despite the ‘open secret’ status of the relationship between (swimming coach Sean Hutchison) Hutchison and plaintiff as of the 2006 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships and the 2007 World Championships no one reported this reasonable suspicion of child abuse or endangerment to the authorities, no one did anything to protect plaintiff as a minor from inappropriate grooming and ultimate molestation, and no one did anything to repudiate Hutchison’s conduct to halt and/or arrest the ongoing trauma which continued well into plaintiff’s adulthood.”
In 2010, USA Swimming investigated the relationship, according to ESPN reports, and found that Smith was 21 at the time and Hutchison was 39. Both Smith and Hutchison denied the relationship and the investigation was closed.
In response to the recently filed lawsuit, USA Swimming released a statement that said: “As expressed earlier this year, we respect Ariana Kukors’ bravery in stepping forward and sharing her story. We have been in regular contact with her legal team over the last several months and will continue to work with them and Ariana through this process.”
Hutchison unequivocally denied the existence of a romantic relationship. He said in a statement in February issued by his attorney, Brad Meryhew, that he had been in a “committed relationship” with Smith that began after she was of age. “They lived together for more than a year after the 2012 Olympic Games.”
Earlier this week, in a news conference regarding the lawsuit, Smith admitted she was not able to emotionally grasp what had transpired between them until early this year and said the abuse stunted her sexually maturity.
“That entire time that we were in a relationship, I was 15,” she told reporters. “It was a man who held my Olympic dream in the palm of his hand. He programmed me,” she said.
Smith also said in the televised interview on ABC News, “He stole many things from me, including my swimming career, my college experience, my friendships, my virginity and ultimately my Olympic dream. Not all athletes will become Olympians, but all athletes deserve to feel safe on a pool deck.”
Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security opened an investigation into the athlete’s claims. No charges have been filed at this time.
Other’s named in the lawsuit include King Aquatic club, Aquatic Management Group, Western Zone Swimming and Pacific Northwest Swimming. Smith also named the head coach of USA Swimming’s 2006 to 2010 team, Mark Schubert in the suit, claiming he was aware of the ‘relationship,’ but did not report it. He has not commented at this time.
Based in Colorado Springs, Colo., USA Swimming is the National Governing Body for the sport of swimming and has approximately 400,000 members, including swimmers from age group level to Olympic team members, in addition to coaches and volunteers from more than 2,800 teams across the United States.
In January, the U.S. House of Representatives announced it was expanding its focus on sexual abuse within the American Olympic program, including swimming, following the Nassar abuse scandal.
“The abhorrent abuses associated with USA Gymnastics, as well as allegations in 2014, when 19 swimmers said they were sexually abused by their coaches, may raise concerns about whether your organization has sufficient mechanisms to protect young athletes from abuse and mistreatment. Accordingly, the Committee is seeking information from USA Swimming because of the role it plays in overseeing swimming and protecting all of its athletes, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce wrote to USA Swimming.
The House Committee also sent letters to USA Taekwondo, Michigan State and USA Gymnastics asking them how they handle sexual abuse cases.
In 2014, an investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce found that “detailed actionable information” about sex abuse and coaches was known to USA Swimming leaders, but no action was taken,” according to a report in the Orange County Register.
During the Larry Nassar trial, 160 women came forward to describe the sexual abuse inflicted by their team physician. One man with USA Gymnastics now serving up to 175 years in prison. One man; 160 victims. Will the lawsuit for the swimmer bring forward more horrible revelations?