Girls’ Breasts Not Being Big Enough To Be Groped Isn’t The Damn Point

I haven’t been following the Australian swimming community’s sexual abuse scandal. I only feel like I have been. That’s because these sorts of heartbreaking stories are so goddamned familiar: a coach is accused of sexually abusing the young charges under his tutelage and with whom he has shared lots of private time, often far from home.

In Australia’s case, several coaches were accused of sexual abuse of both male and female swimmers between the ages of 11 and 16. One coach is Scott Volkers, who is accused of child sexual abuse by three now-adult women. Volkers is accused, among other things, of rubbing the genitalia of a 13-year-old girl and groping the girls’ breasts; he has long claimed his innocence. Charges were dropped against Volkers in 2002 because accusations could not be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Two years later,  in 2004, prosecutor Margaret Cunneen advised against recharging him.

Currently, Australia is holding an investigation (called a “royal commission”) focusing on the country’s institutional response, including whether Cunneen’s advice not to recharge him was appropriate. At the time, Cunneen showed skepticism that the abuse could be prosecuted. Which, as a lawyer, is her job to prove. However, what Cunneen said about it all was pretty offensive to these victims. Cunneen said it could all be seen as “trivial … almost fanciful” and it would be difficult to prosecute Volkers for molestation because his victim may not have developed breasts yet. “It is legitimate to consider whether 12-year-old swimmers even had breasts,” she said.

In other words, the prosecutor suggested the alleged groping may not be seen as really molestation because it was “just” prepubescent girls’ chests.

It may have been Cunneen’s professional opinion as a lawyer that such an argument could be made by the defense, or thought in the minds of a jury. But she could have taken a firm position on inappropriate touching no matter the state of the girls’ developing body, not suggested no boobs = no molestation. THE HELL. It’s because of this advice from Cunneen that the recommendation was made not to recharge Volkers with child sexual assault. After charges against him were dropped in 2002, he was appointed the head women’s coach for the national organization Swimming Australia.

Recently, Cunneen has apologized to two of the young swimmers who were molested, Simone Boyce and Julie Gilbert, saying she never meant for them to hear her reasons for why she recommended leaving Volkers alone. “It never crossed my mind that this privileged advice would end up in the hands of the complainants and to my deep and sincere regret be something that caused them this distress,” she is quoted saying by the Daily Telegraph. This week, Cunneen insisted that the things she said in 2004 were made in a professional capacity and do not reflect her personal views (a neat little lawyer trick there!).

Meanwhile, Volkers is still a swimming coach in Brazil. In 2010, he was refused certification to work with children. (His former employer, Swimming Australia, has made it clear that he is not welcome at an upcoming swimming event.) You mean he was accused of child sexual abuse in one place and so he moved someplace else? Gee, that sounds familiar, too …

[Sydney Morning Herald]
[The Daily Telegraph (1)]
[The Daily Telegraph (2)]
[The Australian]
[Guardian UK]
[ABC.net]
[Oxford University Press]

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[Image of a girl in a bathing suit via Shutterstock]