Ethics Data Online - Articles

"Overwhelming response to coaches series"
Mike Fancher, Times executive editor
Sunday, December 21, 2003

"I'm guilty," wrote a mother whose daughter had been sexually molested by her coach. "I will forever feel responsible for not protecting her."

"I was immediately flooded with memories of my own experiences with my former basketball coach," wrote another woman. "I was 14 when the affair started, his own son in my own class."

"It brought back the sad memories of our youngest daughter, who was groomed by the coach," wrote a father. "Her life has been mostly downhill since then."

"I am almost 45 years old now and I realize how deeply my entire life has been affected by those 2-1/2 years of abuse," wrote a woman. "It is an experience that will always be with me, and all the therapy in the world, although useful in my recovery, will never compensate for the loss of those precious years."

Investigative journalism triggers powerful emotions, but nothing so deeply personal as the response to last week's Seattle Times series called "Coaches who prey: The abuse of girls and the system that allows it." We've received hundreds of messages from readers, many relating their own painful experiences.

The series recounted an incident in 1985 when a teacher asked a student if she had nude pictures of herself. "Well that girl was me," wrote a reader.

Another woman wrote, "After the incident, it took me two years to tell anyone. Then when it all came out it was very traumatic."

Several writers said they had been students of teachers featured in the series. Two wrote about the same teacher, but almost 10 years separated their experiences.

"He was my algebra teacher. I remember, vividly, he acted inappropriately to many of my friends. I thought it was very odd, but when you are 13 years old, you don't think much of it because he is the teacher," wrote one woman.

The other wrote, "Even back then he was touching female athletes and students in his math classes. My friends and I would talk amongst ourselves about how uncomfortable it made us. At the time we were naive and didn't report him. I've often wondered what happened to that guy and I was relieved to see that someone finally spoke up."

One writer thanked us for "calling attention to this disgusting behavior," saying she had experienced it elsewhere. "The most powerful weapon these coaches count on is silence, and I hope that someone who might currently be in a situation like this will have the courage to speak up after reading your articles. Or that more permanent and lasting changes will be made to prevent abuse like this in the future.

"I really wish you'd been around when I was sixteen, but am very glad you've published these articles today," she wrote.

The woman who was 14 when her coach started a three-year relationship wrote that she doesn't trust her judgment about men.

"I hope these girls don't end up like me. I look back now and see how these events have affected me. Some people think that once the affair is over, or once the man has been prosecuted, it's all over and you move on with life. That's not true. It stays with you forever."
Just as heartfelt were the communications from people who work with children or with victims of sexual abuse.

"I am a public servant, and this behavior sickens me. The vast majority of public employees I have known are good, honest, respectable, decent people. I applaud your courage in bringing to light those who have taken advantage of their positions to harm innocent kids. The work you are doing is an enormous contribution to our community — not only by stopping perpetrators from offending again, but also by bringing to light how criminals are protected and victims are not."

A therapist who specializes in treating women abused as children said she will "be sharing the series with clients who will likely be benefited by seeing stories similar to their own in print.

"As you are likely aware, girls abused by coaches are affected in every area of their adult lives. As poet Adrienne Rich once said, 'That which is unspoken becomes unspeakable.'

"The girls are made to feel responsible for the abuse; the secrecy creates great shame in their adult lives. Girls abused by coaches (or teachers, relatives, priests, etc.) experience difficulty with trust and often report feeling 'unknown' in adulthood due to the need to keep quiet in earlier years.

"Series such as the current one provide a great service in exposing the problem and bringing normalcy back to the survivors."

Another note came from someone who works on sexual-harassment issues. "I started reading the series on the Web and just want to thank you both for a remarkable series of articles on a subject that too many people simply do not want to deal with or even hear about. No one has ever written an article like this that detailed the pattern that exists. It is an absolutely first-rate job of reporting.

"You have shone a spotlight on a very dark area and it will indeed make a difference in helping all of us — teachers and administrators, parents and students, lawyers and advocates — understand that this is a serious problem, which is, after all, the first step in solving the problem."

Similar hope was expressed by many of those who wrote to us. Said the 45-year-old woman who was abused for 2½ years:

"I am perhaps a little jaded, but, reading the excerpts in your series, it seems that the script hasn't changed and that young people are just as vulnerable to it now as I was in 1976. I am saddened to see that not much prevention progress has been made, but trust that this series marks the beginning of a new way of thinking about the issue, institutionally and as a community. I am very grateful for what you have done."

And we are grateful for such an overwhelming response.