It's not even been a week since Ariana Kukors bravely told the story of what happened to her at the hands of her swim coach, Sean Hutchison. Already there is a disturbing trend in the discussion of it. To varying degrees, Kukors has been maligned. The arguments I've heard are something like follows:
"She was a consenting adult to the sex because they had sex after she was 18 years old"
If this is how you read the story, I'm going to ask you to reconsider. I'm being polite today because several friends reached out to me yesterday and asked me to stop being so angry. That's hard for me- abusive coaches have really hurt the sport I love, but more importantly really hurt people that I care about.
It's worth reading Kukors' story several times, even though it is hard. People are fixating on the handshake as the first step to grooming. Don't fall into this trap- shaking hands is not a in isolation. Grooming children who you hold power over for sex is. So if you ask kids to shake your hands,
Power is the key to understanding this story. Hutchison held huge influence and power over Kukors and others. I do not believe that a 16 year old girl can consent to sexual contact with her 34 year old swim coach.
Likewise, Kukors story reveals that Hutchison used another power imbalance to his advantage. He knew what he was doing was wrong- victims are often far less certain about what is right and wrong due to their age and position.
That he "saved" intercourse until she was 18 is a key tell. He knew what he was doing was wrong and was trying to do it in a way that would leave him less exposed to legal jeopardy. Even though he knew he was in the wrong, he effectively transferred the shame onto his victim and used that power to tighten his grip.
So please, spare all of us the insinuation that Kukors somehow consented to any of this.
So What Do We Do Now?
I mentioned that friends reached out to me, and even a few people that I had never spoken to. This is the part where I tell them "I hear you". They wanted less anger and more proactive steps. So here are some proactive steps.
1. Offer whatever platform or forum you have for the girls and women you know in the sport to talk about what they would like to see get better. Many of them will not want to- be empathetic to that.
I believe that prominent female voices within the sport will be speaking out on this very issue in the next few days, and there will be strength in numbers that there has not been before in this moment
2. If you are a man, get out and positively support what these women and girls are saying. Take their suggestions to heart and think about real change you can effect in whatever domain you have.
That's it. I think that step one will reveal a lot about what step two should be. It's time for big change and the moment is now.