A lawsuit has been filed against USA Swimming, Indiana Swimming and the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township (Marion County, Indiana Superior Court) for their failure to take action on complaints made about their certified Swim Coach, Christopher Wheat, and for the sexual abuse and assault against a then 14 year old female swimmer that resulted from that inaction.
In the lawsuit Jane Doe states she was sexually abused by Wheat on at least three occasions in 2009, leading to his arrest and conviction. The lawsuit documents that USA Swimming and Indiana Swimming had two separate opportunities to stop Wheat before he molested the young victim and potentially other young athletes. The lawsuit states one year before Jane Doe was molested by Wheat, her mother notified Indiana Swimming about Wheat’s inappropriate sexual relationship with another his minor female swimmers. Despite the notification, Indiana Swimming ignored the complaint and told her to take the complaint to Wheat’s swim club.
The lawsuit also states that USA Swimming allowed Wheat to be hired as head coach in the 2006-2007 time frame despite the fact that Wheat had resigned from the same club in the 2001-2002 time period following complaints by numerous swimmers of Wheat’s sexually inappropriate behavior.
A series of text messages between Wheat and a USA Swimming certified coach reveals that Wheat confessed to the sexual abuse but the abuse was never reported to law enforcement as required by Indiana law.
USA Swimming also failed to conduct a reasonably thorough background investigation, conduct reference checks, or otherwise take steps to review available information about Wheat.
“The failure of numerous people to disregard Christopher Wheat’s previous complaints is grounds for their removal from positions of trust”, said Little. “Similar to the Penn State University case involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, we are asking that the Indiana Attorney General and the Marion County DA prosecute those that broke the law by not reporting complaints against Wheat”, added Little.
The lawsuit further states Jane Doe is being treated for severe physical and mental conditions, and has turned to self-harming behaviors to cope with her sexual abuse and anguish, including cutting and burning herself.
There is much to learn from the sexual abuse scandal hitting Penn State and how Coach Joe Paterno and others handled the situation with the Jerry Sandusky allegations. In the USA Swimming cases, in some cases, the same problem came up, as it did with the Catholic abuse cases. Simply put, adults in charge fail to take the complaints seriously and fail to report to law enforcement. The cavalier attitude allows predators to keep abusing children. The law mandates the reporting of such criminal activity.
In a book by Joe Paterno, he writes, “Coaches have the same obligations as all teachers”. “Except that we may have more moral and life-shaping influence over our players than anyone else outside of their families.”
Remember, it all starts with the “grooming” that sexual predator coaches engage in. Sexual predators gain the trust of children and their parents. Then they take advantage.
If you child has been sexually abused by a coach, contact our office for help.