Vieth Report Major Point: More Work To Be Done on Physical, Psychological Abuse

Throughout the day, we will be analyzing and breaking down the key points of the Vieth report. The executive summary of the report was published earlier today in 12 pages that focused on Vieth’s recommendations. The full report will be published after a conference call with the media at 3:45PM Eastern Time. To see our original publishing of the executive summary, click here. To see the executive summary, click here.

A major point in the executive summary published earlier today by USA Swimming was the need for a greater push on psychological and physical abuse within USA Swimming.

While Vieth notes several times that USA Swimming, through its SafeSport program, has made monumental strides in protecting children from child abuse since 2010, it notes that the next step is to extend the same protections to victims of psychological or physical abuse.

This point by Vieth is likely to be well taken around the sport. USA Swimming was in a quagmire of sexual abuse (as Vieth noted, more reports have been made in the past 3 years than the last 20 years), and that is an area that needed immediate attention.

The next target, however, will be the attack of psychological and physical, non-sexual, abuse by coaches against young athletes. While these physical and psychological abuses, on the spectrum of abuse, are not held by our society as being as severe as sexual abuse, the offenses of this nature are more widespread – and can involve both child and adult athletes.

One recommendation by Vieth was to bring in more experts in this field to educate the swimming community on these types of abuses, and to determine whether or not a psychological or physical abuse has happened.

Three examples of references to this by Vieth in his executive summary are below (note that the numbers given are the numbered sub-sections of that report; point “1.” is in a different section than points “3.” and “4.”):

1. Provide equal layers of protection for all abused children within the sport

USA Swimming’s policies and procedures are focused primarily on sexual abuse within the sport. Children who are physically or psychologically abused receive fewer protections. There is very little in the rules protecting a child who may be involved in swimming but is being abused in his or her own home. Not only does this afford lesser protection to some abused children, it also impairs the ability of the organization to fully protect children who may be sexually abused within swimming. This is because most children who are abused in one way are abused in multiple ways, and children who are abused in their own home may be more susceptible to abuse by other parties. Accordingly, if the organization improves its ability to recognize and respond to other forms of abuse, it will also do a better job of protecting athletes from sexual abuse. To this end, we recommend that USA Swimming follow the lead of swimming organizations in other countries, as well as a number of youth serving organizations in the United States, and require all of its members to report suspected child abuse no matter the type and irrespective of the source of the abuse. All policies, procedures and training programs of the organization should reflect this change. 

3. Develop a pool of medical, mental health and sex offender treatment experts that can be consulted in cases of physical abuse, psychological abuse and juvenile sex offenses
Although USA Swimming does have a Safe Sport committee that includes a detective, a psychologist and a medical professional that can be consulted, there is a need to expand this list to include a board certified pediatric specialist in child abuse, a psychologist specializing or well versed in cases of psychological abuse and a sex offender treatment provider specializing or well versed in juvenile sexual behaviors or offenses.

4. Disband or limit the coaches’ panel to evaluating whether a coaches’ conduct is acceptable within the sport of swimming
Although cases of sexual misconduct may go directly to an NBOR after an investigation, cases of physical abuse or psychological abuse go to a “coaches’ panel” after an investigation.

Although coaches are qualified to render an opinion as to whether particular conduct is acceptable within the field of coaching, they are not qualified to determine if an act constitutes physical or psychological abuse. Either their role should be limited to their field of expertise or the coaches panel should be abolished.

These cases of psychological and physical abuse can be much more convoluted than cases of sexual abuse, where the lines are more clearly drawn (albeit, there still remains some shades of gray). What is psychologically abusive to a coach in one generation might not be so to a coach in another generation, and what might be psychologically abusive to one group of swimmers might not be to another.

Vieth’s recommendation that these decisions be put in the hands of experts is an important one; first and foremost, coaches need to have proper training by experts so that they know what will cause psychological damage to their athletes, much like they’ve received on sexual abuse issues. Then it needs to be up to experts to enforce these policies.

A good point, and one well received from this side.

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About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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