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Olympian details alleged abuse 'in bid to save others'

China Daily | Updated: 2018-02-14 11:30

NEW YORK - Olympic swimmer Ariana Kukors of the United States said in an emotional interview on Monday that her former coach "stole so much" from her in the decade she alleges he sexually abused her starting when she was a minor.

Kukors, 28, told Associated Press that she can't get the time back but she can speak out so others recognize the signs of people grooming others for abuse or similar misconduct.

"If I save one person who's currently being groomed, if I have a dialogue with one parent about something that they think is alarming with their child and their coach. If I do that, this is worth it - as painful as it is," Kukors said through tears in New York.

Kukors alleges Sean Hutchison, who began coaching her at a Seattle-area swim club, groomed her for sexual abuse when she was 13, started touching and kissing her when she was 16 and engaging in sexual activity when she was 17.

Kukors also told authorities that Hutchison took thousands of sexually explicit photos of her as a minor.

Hutchison, 46, a former Olympic assistant coach, has denied the allegations and has not been charged with a crime. Federal and local investigators searched his apartment last week for computers and other devices. An email to his Seattle attorney seeking comment wasn't returned.

"At no time did I ever abuse Ariana Kukors or do anything with her that was not consensual," he said in a statement last week.

"I absolutely deny having any sexual or romantic relationship with her before she was old enough to legally make those decisions for herself. Prior to that time, I did nothing to 'groom' her."

Hutchison said the two were in a relationship after the 2012 London Olympics, when she was 23 and he was 41.

Kukors, the 2009 world champion in the 200m individual medley who placed fifth in that event at the 2012 Games, said on Monday that someone who began forming a relationship with her when she was 13 could not possibly say it was consensual.

She has described "an extensive, abusive and incredibly manipulative relationship" that spanned a decade. "Somebody manipulating and taking control and power and ownership of you is wrong," she said.

In a roughly 20-minute interview, Kukors described her long process of healing, the overwhelming support she has received since she went public last week and her desire to help educate others about potential abuse.

She declined to say what USA Swimming officials or others should have done differently and what policy changes she hoped to see, saying she doesn't have the emotional capacity for that yet.

USA Swimming hired a private investigator to look into rumors of a relationship between her and Hutchison in 2010. The organization said it closed the investigation without finding any misconduct after the two and others denied the relationship.

Some have criticized the investigation as insufficient. It followed other sex abuse scandals in the sport that led to lifetime bans.

Kukors said she lied when a private investigator called her to ask about her interaction with Hutchison because she was scared. "When I think back on it now, the truth wasn't an option," she said.

USA Swimming said last week that Kukors' public statement was the first time it learned of the underage abuse allegations and that "our hearts go out to Ariana and the difficulty she has gone through to reach this point of disclosure".

Kukors, who is now married and credits her husband for helping her through the ordeal, said she hoped to underscore the way predators gain the trust of victims who don't know what's happening to them.

Through that process, Hutchison also gained the trust of her parents so they looked at him as a figure of authority they trusted, she said.

"Everyone in our community praised him for the work that he was doing," Kukors said.

She said she hopes in time to make people understand that "it's not appropriate for a coach to be alone in a hotel room behind closed doors with their athlete, no matter how good they are, no matter what path they're on.

"It's completely inappropriate."

Associated Press

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