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The term “improper relationship” will not change the culture needed for coach/athlete sexual abuse.

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By: Katherine Starr

During the past week, the media went crazy to report that Rick Curl was banned for life from USA Swimming for an ‘improper relationship” with Kelley Currin, a relationship that began  when she was 12 years of age.

The media and the official statement released by USA Swimming used two words that do not belong together in the same sentence when describing sexual abuse between a coach and an athlete under the age of 18:  “improper” and “relationship”.

Yes, no argument on the fact that an athlete has a relationship with their coach. We depend on our coaches emotionally to push us to be better athletes and excel beyond what we thought possible.  We depend on our coaches to lift us up through our failures and success. We enter into the most vulnerable of vulnerable spaces with our coaches.  Not even our parents may enter this space. 

When one is talking about a 12-year-old girl and  uses the term  “improper relationship” to describe what transpired between a coach and athlete  that term cannot come  close to magnitude of the damage and wreckage created by sexual abuse between a minor child and coach.

The term is incredibly light and vague and doesn’t even begin to get at the truth of the issue. It’s an extremely passive description of coach/athlete sexual abuse. 

Coach/athlete sexual abuse is not a passive act. If we continue to treat as such we are not going to see a change in the attitudes and practices of the sports community.  This misconduct must be denounced and called what it really is -- “repeated statutory rape”.

If we reverse the description as if it where coming from a voice of a child, do we think that the child/athlete would describe their experience in that moment as having “improper relationship” with the coach?  “Relationship”  implies consent.  “Relationship” implies value.    

There is no consent when talking about sexual abuse or rape of a child/athlete by a coach.  There is no ‘relationship”.  We need to stop describing it and treating it as such. 

Until we can denounce sexual abuse and sexual harassment in sports and say what it really is, the culture of sexual abuse in sports will continue to live on.

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