Sometimes it takes distance from a situation to see it clearly.
As a young competitive swimmer, Katherine Starr experienced sexual abuse at the hands of her coach. He worked for the Olympic team, so Starr couldn’t avoid him if she wanted to make the Summer Games. She did reach that goal, competing in 1984 and 1988, but her suffering cast a shadow over her aspirations to coach one day. So she stepped away from the sport for a while.
After the break, Starr came back as a coach, and it became clear to her how relationships between young athletes and their trainers can become abusive.
“I realized the vulnerability of that situation,” Starr says. “The athlete will pretty much do everything you ask of them because, in exchange, what you’re giving is their self worth.”
With this understanding, she formed Safe4Athletes, which provides consultation to those who have suffered abuse, advocates for protective policies, and advises organizations on the subject. Her group has developed a set of guidelines for safeguarding athletes.
She is an expert witness, gives talks on abuse, has penned several articles and been interviewed by major media outlets.
“[After] the suffering that I had to do in silence, I just felt that a young person should know that someone is there,” Starr says.