In what can surely be seen as an outgrowth of the scandal surrounding USA Gymnastics, Olympic swimmer Ariana Kukors Smith has filed suit against USA Swimming, accusing the organization of failing to protect her from alleged sexual abuse committed by her coach, Sean Hutchison.
Hutchison, who served as Team USA’s coach for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, has denied the allegations, but Kukors, who first met Hutchison when he was the coach at her hometown swimming club in Seattle, says the man began to “groom” her for a sexual relationship from the time she was 13.
In her lawsuit, Kukors claims Hutchison began to molest her when she turned 16. She was 19 during the 2008 Olympics. The year later, Hutchison became head coach for the US women’s swimming team. At the same time, he was maintaining an intimate relationship with one of his swimmers, Kukors, but in a statement prepared last month, Hutchinson told reporters that every aspect of his relationship with the former world champion had been consensual.
Hutchison described a “committed relationship” that had blossomed after the 2012 Olympics, CNN writes. “I absolutely deny having any sexual or romantic relationship with her before she was old enough to legally make those decisions for herself,” Hutchison continued. “Prior to that, I did nothing to ‘groom’ her.”
Kukors has a different view on events. Her civil attorneys say that, in the course of therapy, Kukors realized that she had been abused by her former coach. It “began as back rubs in hotel rooms,” she claims, but soon escalated to kissing, groping and digital penetration.
Over the years, Kukors says, Hutchison took thousands of sexual photographs of her, including pictures of her in the shower when she was a minor.
“I think back on those times now,” Kukors wrote in a statement released on Friday, February 11, 2018, “tearfully asking why no one helped me […] why no one stepped in to save me from this monster.” In her lawsuit, filed Friday, May 21, the former swimmer follows through on her concerns, accusing top officials at USA Swimming of concealing Hutchison’s misdeeds for years.
Kukors has named USA Swimming, former US team coach Mark Schubert and several swim clubs associated with Hutchison as defendants in the case.
Kukors claims that Schubert, while heading up the international team’s meets, “saw Hutchison inappropriately touching her,” USA Today reports. In her statement, Kukors wrote, “This lawsuit is about holding responsible those who knew there was underage abuse taking place and did nothing to stop it while going out of their way to protect my abuser.”
She says officials at USA Swimming became aware of Hutchison’s alleged misconduct as early as 2005, but failed to do anything about it.
In fact, Kukors Smith claims that the organization did everything it could to protect Hutchison, even gaming the background check process in an attempt to hide the “pervasive rumors of his inappropriate, sexually motivated behavior toward minors.” Hutchison, Kukors Smith argues, was an exceptional swimming coach. USA Swimming just couldn’t let his alleged misbehavior threaten their chances at Olympic gold, she claims.
In 2010, the organization looked into rumors of an inappropriate relationship between Kukors and Hutchison but closed the investigation after the swimmer and her coach both denied it. Kukors told reporters at the Associated Press that she was scared to tell the truth at the time. “When I think back on it now,” she said, “the truth wasn’t an option.”
USA Swimming has responded, in part, to the allegations, writing in a statement,
“we respect Ariana Kukors Smith’s 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. No further information will be provided at this time, given the pending litigation.”
Kukors Smith’s attorney has a darker take on the organization. At a press conference on Monday, May 21, the lawyer said, “The culture of protecting pedophile coaches is so deeply ingrained into the culture within USA Swimming’s management model that the only solution to this grave problem is to blow it all up and rebuild it from the ground up.”
Kukors filed a police report in January, calling law enforcement officials in Des Moines, Washington. Because some of Hutchison’s alleged crimes are claimed to have occurred overseas, the Department of Homeland Security is investigating the matter.
In February, officials from the federal agency searched Hutchison’s condo in Seattle, confiscating his computer and other electronic devices to search for child pornography. The swim coach has not yet been charged with any crimes.