Six women have filed lawsuits against USA Swimming, claiming that local associations in California and the governing body did not protect them from abuse from three now-banned coaches. Three lawsuits were filed this month from the women, listing former U.S. Olympic and national team coach Mitch Ivey, former U.S. national team director Everett Uchiyama and former coach Andrew King as the alleged abusers.
Debra Grodensky, Suzette Moran and Tracy Palmero and three other women connected to USA swimming who prefer to remain anonymous filed the suits.
The lawsuit states that USA Swimming, as well as the local clubs and associations, assisted in creating a culture of abuse by refusing to address predatory behavior from many in the program. The women say this lack of acknowledgment exposed many swimmers, including underage ones, to sexual abuse and harassment for years.
"My sexual abuse was 100% preventable ... I want this lawsuit to wake up USA Swimming. I want cultural change and mandated education for this great sport," Grodensky said, according to the Associated Press.
Grodensky said King's abuse occurred from when she was 11 to 16 years old in the 1980s. She believes that being the victim of such abuse led to years of depression.
King pleaded no contest to 20 molestation charges in 2010 and was sentenced to 40 years in prison after his conviction.
Moran says when she was 12, Ivey began sexually abusing her, which lead to him getting her pregnant when she was 17. A few months before the 1984 U.S. Olympic trials, Ivey insisted she get an abortion. Moran noted that the years of abuse has lead to depression, low self-esteem and panic attacks, all on top of acute anxiety.
"I still suffer from the trauma today that will stay with me for the rest of my life. USA Swimming must clean house and get rid of the coaches and executives that created this culture that condoned sexual abuse by coaches," she said.
Palmero claims that Uchiyama started abusing her in the early 1990s when she was 14 and believes other coaches knew what was going on and did not step in. She reported the abuse to former executive director Chuck Wielgus 10 years after the fact and says he had Uchiyama sign a confidential agreement where he admitted to the alleged abuse.
Uchiyama then resigned, but eventually got a new coaching job at a country club, with a recommendation from a USA Swimming executive. Palmero points to that as proof of the lack of commitment to erase abusers from the swimming world.
"This news was devastating to me. It was as if they were dismissing everything that happened to me. This is how USA Swimming takes care of its predator coaches," she said.
USA Swimming responded to all of these claims, saying the three coaches the women were abused by are on the list of permanently suspended coaches and have been for some time.
"We fully support survivors of sexual abuse along their healing journey. USA Swimming's Safe Sport program continues to work with prominent health and education experts to provide meaningful member resources and SwimAssist funding to those in need," USA Swimming said. "The organization and its current leadership remain committed to providing a safe environment and a positive culture for all its members."
The women's attorney, Robert Allard, said USA Swimming has been aware of their abuse cases for some time and added, "Yet they purposefully did not reach out to them, we believe, because they did not want to know the truth about who knew about their abuse and did nothing."
"This organization cannot truly move forward unless it expels from its membership permanently those responsible for the perpetuation of this culture," Allard said.
Allard and the women say there is still a serious problem within USA Swimming and they want more done about it.
"If it needs to blow things up to replace all these people with some good people, then that's what we have to do. That's where it starts," Allard said.
These lawsuits are filed under a new California law that enables sexual abuse victims to address their abusers and the organizations that protected the abusers in court. The bill allows victims to file claims that had already expired under the statute of limitations.