#MeToo: Naming & shaming men in power who abuse female athletes

#MeToo: Naming and shaming men in power who abuse female athletes

sexual abuse
Keramuudin Karim. Larry Nassar. Sean Hutchinson. An unnamed South Korean tennis coach. Cho Jae-beom.

These men have all been credibly accused of sexually abusing women and girl athletes, many of whom were underage at the time they were targeted.

Keramuudin Karim: AFF president, victim silencer

Last week, former president of the Afghan Football Federation, Keramuudin Karim, was handed a lifetime ban from FIFA after being convicted by the ethics committee of sexually abusing at least five women’s players between 2013 – 2018. He was also fined one million Swiss Francs.

Karim, along with several other senior staff in the AFF, are alleged to have assaulted women’s players and then fired them from the national team, labelling them ‘lesbians’ to stop them speaking out.

Khalida Popal, a former head of the women’s football department with the AFF, says this tactic helps guarantee the women’s silence:

“If they spoke out, no one would listen to them because being accused of being lesbian or gay in Afghanistan is a topic you don’t speak about and puts you and your family in a lot of danger.”

Popal conducted her own investigation into the AFF and found that the organisation systematically removed nine players who were abused so that if they decided to testify about their experiences, they would be dismissed as disgruntled former players.

“The federation would make an excuse to get rid of the player so that if they came out [and spoke publicly], it would look like they were just upset about being kicked off the team. That investigation took me half a year and there was physical abuse, sexual abuse, death threats and rape cases,” she says.

Now there’s a warrant for Karim’s arrest.

Larry Nassar: monster doctor of USA gymnastics, paedophile and molester

The conviction of Larry Nassar, the long-serving doctor of the women’s USA Gymnastics team, was perhaps the catalyst for the public accusations against some of other the offenders on this list.

An ‘experimental’ physician, Nassar enjoyed unrestricted access to young girls and elite young women athletes for over 20 years before being outed as a paedophile, child molester and sexual abuser.

Hundreds of women, many of them current and former gymnasts who were minors at the time of their experiences, accused Nassar of sexually assaulting them while performing examinations and treatments, even in the presence of their parents.

Police raided his house in 2016, when Kyle Stephens reported her experience of childhood sexual abuse by Nassar to police after reading an interview by IndyStar of his first public accuser, Rachael Denhollander.

There they found thirty-seven thousand images and videos of child pornography, charges for which resulted in a 60-year prison sentence.

After his arrest, hundreds more brave women came forward and shared their stories of abuse.

In 2018, two-time Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman and 155 other women all testified against Nassar, resulting in an additional prison sentence for crimes relating to sexual assault for between 40 and 175 years.

Nassar’s sexual assault of women and young girls was unbelievably widespread.

Even worse, it was an open secret.

Starting in 1997, ‘numerous’ girls and women he treated while working at Michigan State University lodged complaints against Nassar – complaints which were all dismissed by gymnastic coaches, MCU staff and even the Michigan police.

A former dean at MCU has now been convicted of ‘neglect of duty’ and ‘misconduct’ for his handling of those complaints. A court stopped short of convicting the dean of sexual misconduct, though he has also been accused of several counts.

Sean Hutchinson: Team USA swimming coach, alleged child groomer

Ariana Kukors, a former Olympic swimmer, got a new coach when she was 13.

Sean Hutchinson, 18 years her senior, allegedly groomed her until the age of 15 or 16, after which he began sexually abusing her.

In a personal blog post, Kukors accused Hutchinson of abuse for the first time nearly 15 years after her ordeal allegedly began.

Kukors says that when she was 15, Hutchinson started requesting nude photos of her and strategically orchestrated one-on-one time to get her alone, like morning workouts, so he could watch her shower afterwards.

In 2010, a Washington Post story speculated that the two were in a romantic relationship – a violation of USA Swimming’s code of conduct. This prompted an internal investigation by USA Swimming, but the findings cleared Hutchinson of any wrongdoing. At the time, Kukors, Hutchinson and Kukors’ sister, Emily, all denied that the two were in a relationship.

Kukors’ attorney, however, claims the organisation was too quick to exonerate Hutchinson because they wanted to ‘avoid negative publicity’.

Last year, police searched Hutchinson’s home after Kukors reported that Hutchinson took naked photos of her as a 17-year old, but he has so far not been charged with any crime.

Kukors says the relationship between the two was based on manipulation and a power imbalance – she didn’t realise until she was older that Hutchinson had actively groomed her.

“I thought he loved me, and that I’d broken his heart when I left… It took me a while to get to the point where I could acknowledge that I was a victim, and that wasn’t love, there was no consent,” she says.

Kukors launched civil action against Hutchinson, USA Swimming, Mark Schubert (Former US National Team head coach), Aquatic Management Group Inc., and King Aquatic Club (Hutchinson’s swim club) for ‘sexual abuse of a minor, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress’.

In October 2018, Hutchinson was handed a permanent ban from swimming after the US Centre for Safe Sport found him guilty of abusing Kukors.

Like USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming has a long history of sexual misconduct.

A damning report by The Orange Country Register found that hundreds of coaches were guilty of sexual misconduct against their athletes. Former USA Swimming executive director, Chuck Wielgus, was found to have actively ignored at least 11 complaints of sexual abuse committed by ‘high profile coaches’.

Since 1997, over 250 coaches and officials have been ‘arrested, charged by prosecutors, or disciplined by USAS for sexual abuse or misconduct against individuals under 18’, with at least 590 victims between them.

Some of the victims were of pre-school age.

South Korea: sexually abusive coaches are plentiful

Sexual abuse of women and girl athletes in South Korea is a common occurrence.

The male-dominated world of elite coaching has led to a patriarchal culture of impunity, in which sexual abuse is often a part of a young girl athlete’s coming of age.

A 2014 Korean Sports & Olympic Committee survey found that one in seven Korean women athletes were sexually abused in 2013.

70 percent ‘did not seek help of any kind’.

Chung Yong-chul, sports psychology professor at Sogang University in Seoul, claims that athletes must remain silent if they want to succeed.

“This is a community where those who speak out are ostracised and bullied as ‘traitors’ who brought shame to the sport,” he says.

At just 10 years old, Kim Eun-hee says she was raped by her tennis coach for the first time.

After several parents made complaints about the coach’s ‘suspicious behaviour’, he was quietly relocated to another school but was not subject to any disciplinary action.

After a chance encounter at a tennis tournament in 2017, Kim ‘realised he was still coaching young tennis players’.

As a result, she decided to come forward in order to file a criminal complaint against him.

He was found guilty of rape with injury and was sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Sexual abuse in South Korean ice-skating sports is also allegedly rife.

Olympic champion speed track skater, Shim Suk-hee, came forward earlier this year to accuse her former coach, Cho Jae-beom, of repeatedly raping her.

Cho is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence after being found guilty of physically assaulting four athletes in his care, including Shim.

The investigation into claims of sexual assault made by Shim is ongoing.

Five other women skaters have also accused their coaches of sexual assault – and the ‘godfather’ of Korean skating, Jeon Myeong-gyu, is accused of covering it all up.

Jeon, a former national ice-skating team coach and now a professor at Korea National Sport University, has long raised suspicions over his personal conduct.

Well-known for ‘favouritism’ among coaches and athletes from KNSU, it is also suspected that he may have ‘pressured victims in order to cover up sex crimes committed by coaches he taught’.

Athletic coaches and staff have an obligation to look after the athletes in their care. Many of these athletes are minors, who are particularly vulnerable to the predatory tactics of groomers.

This list is not extensive: we know that sexual abuse in sport, especially against women and girls, is far too common. The men on this list actively sought to target young girls and women for their perverse sexual pleasure.

Sadly, as long as athletes perform on the field, the abuse often goes unchecked.

To change the statistics, we must set a new precedent that challenges toxic patriarchy and consequent impunity that allows men like Nassar to commit these horrific crimes.

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