Athletes Break their Silence

Photo Illustration by Naomi Skiles

Photo Illustration by Naomi Skiles

Trigger warning: this story contains descriptions of sexual assault and harassment

Violated. Manipulated. Oppressed. Abused. Silenced.

Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, according to, an anti-sexual assault nonprofit organization. Last summer, South alum Katie Park was one of many athletes to become a victim.

The summer leading up to her senior year, Park alleges that she encountered multiple incidents of sexual harassment with a music adviser who worked during band camp at South. The first time he touched her in a way that made her uncomfortable, she brushed it off. However, as he repeated his actions time and time again, including kissing her on the hand and leering at her, she knew she had to say something.

“As a drum major, you have to be the person that people look up to and that means that I couldn’t let this guy get away with this,” Park said. “I couldn’t let this guy come back here every single year, put his hands on people uncomfortably and potentially be in such a position of power that he could even assault [them]. I was just thinking, ‘No, not to these people. You can’t do that. I’m not going to let you do that.’”

With the encouragement of her fellow peers in band, Park decided to bring up the incidents to some of the staff at band camp, like the band director, she said. However, the response she got left her feeling invalidated and fearful.

“No one else was speaking out about it,” Park said. “Everyone just went along with it. In my head, I wondered, ‘Well, what do I do now? I’m going to have close contact with this man for eight hours of my day for the next two days [and he] could very easily overpower me in any situation.’”

After a little convincing from her friends, Park said that she wrote a letter to Principal Dr. Lauren Fagel explaining the situation.

“In situations like the one Katie [described], we react immediately,” Fagel said. “We follow our policy to the letter and we make sure everyone gets due process. Bottom line: students must feel safe in order to learn.”

Finally getting the response she needed, Park was told the music adviser would no longer be working with them, which gave her some much needed relief. However, him being gone did not change what had happened, and Park would feel the effects of the situation long after.   

“It made me very nervous and upset during that time and exacerbated a lot of stress I was [already] going through,” Park said. “It’s still something I think about, have [nightmares] about and am reminded of all the time. It was so embarrassing. And so humiliating. And so out of my control. It felt terrible.”’

But Park is not alone in her trauma. A survey conducted by, an organization dedicated to meeting the needs of at-risk children, found that 40 percent to 50 percent of all athletes have experienced some type of sexual harassment or abuse. Outside of athletics, a survey conducted in January 2018 found that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men experience sexual harassment during their lifetime, according to, a nonprofit dedicated to ending sexual harassment worldwide.

In March 2017, the United States Olympic Committee created the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is responsible for handling allegations of sexual misconduct in all Olympic National Bodies. All members of Olympic organizations such as USA Gymnastics are required to report sexual misconduct allegations directly to the U.S. Center for SafeSport as soon as they become aware of them.

Dr. Larry Nassar, the former national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics, is one of the names that bought the sexual abuse and mistreatment of athletes to light. In 2018, Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sex crimes, according to Many of the testimonies in his trial described how Nassar would molest young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment. Some of Nassar’s victims included big names in gymnastics like Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and McKayla Maroney, who helped bring the case to national attention, according to

Senior Sarah Bailey* also experienced sexual harassment in gymnastics. A new coach joined her gymnastics club in 7th grade and immediately began to make the girls there uncomfortable, Bailey explained. During practice, he would inappropriately touch the athletes, especially when they did something he liked, Bailey added.

“I was young, but I still knew it was wrong,” Bailey said. “[I felt] frustrated, uncomfortable and confused.”

Senior Anne Wilson* practiced at the same gym and experienced the same situation. Wilson also felt uncomfortable interacting with this coach and stopped looking forward to practices where she had to see him, she explained. In fact, she lost some of her passion for the sport because of it, she said.

“It was kind of a turning point in our experience with gymnastics,” Wilson said. “It made [my teammates and I] not enjoy the sport as much because we didn’t feel like we had an advocate for us there.”

The sexual harassment she experienced taught Wilson not to blindly trust those in positions of power and how she has to advocate for herself, she said.

“It kind of made me realize that people in power aren’t always the people who you should put all of your trust into,” Wilson said. “You shouldn’t blindly think that somebody who’s supposed to be protecting you will. You have to be able to rely on your own beliefs and opinions.”

In 2019, the U.S. Center for SafeSport released its Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policies (MAAPP) to specifically empower and protect minor athletes. MAAPP limits the amount of one-on-one interaction between minors and adults, trains adults on abuse prevention and strives to promote a safe environment for all younger athletes, according to the

District 225 also has policies in place to prevent sexual harassment, like Board Policy 8470, which explicitly states the district’s zero tolerance policy for harassment of any kind on a school campus or at any school-sponsored activities. Fagel believes sexual harassment can take place in any environment, athletic-related or noWt, and said the best way to avoid it is to a foster a supportive and respectful environment.

“We take any harassment complaint very seriously,” Fagel said. “If sexual harassment of any form takes place, we want to know about it so we can take appropriate action. We have our See Something Say Something campaign and we have two anonymous reporting tools: Titan Concern Form and Text-a-Tip.”

Andy Turner, interim athletic director, also emphasized the seriousness of the procedures that the district takes to protect students.

“[Our] protocols are updated yearly,” he explained. “[We make sure] they are up to the standard that they need to be held to. It’s not something that’s taken lightly.”

Freshman Hallie Bond* experienced sexual harassment as a sixth grade volleyball player. While she is still processing her experience and struggles to share her story, Bond recognized the importance of speaking up about sexual harassment cases in order to make others feel more comfortable sharing their stories.

“I personally have been sexually harassed and I know that a lot of my other friends have too, but they don’t know how to talk about it without feeling uncomfortable,” Bond said. “I think that if there are more people to talk about this topic, then there is more awareness and more unification with other people that have gone through this.”

Turner recognized that education on sexual harassment is something that will be updated and improved throughout the years as new resources become available.

“In [District 225], I’m constantly aware of updates going on related to how people are educated [about this topic],” Turner said.

Although she advocates the importance of speaking up about sexual harassment, Bond would never want to put the pressure or blame on the victims. Instead, she wishes to comfort those who have experienced situations similar to hers and many others.

“It’s not your fault. It’s never your fault,” Bond said. “[You might] feel powerless, but you’re not powerless at all. It’s okay to feel that way. And it’s really not your fault.”

*Names have been changed