Sexual assault victims of ski coach demand changes to sports
Ski coach victims are speaking out about what they endured and what they want to see changed in amateur sports.
Four of the many women who were sexually assaulted by a man they trusted said their ski coach robbed them of the childhood.
Amelie Frederique-Gagnon, Gail Kelly, Anna Prchal, and Genevieve Simard are among the nine women that were sexually assaulted by national ski coach Bertrand Charest.
At an emotional news conference on Monday, they were able to speak in public about what they endured after going to court to lift a publication ban on their names.
All four said they suffered at the hands of Charest who took their dreams of competing at the top levels of downhill skiing and instead abused them.
"Since he did those things to me I have lived with the ongoing, overwhelming feeling of shame and humiliation. Not for a day, or a year, but for over 20 years," said Prchal as she fought back tears.
"My childhood goals and dreams were robbed from me. My self-esteem was crushed. I found myself abandoned by the very people who were supposed to be taking care of me."
Simard, who skiied at the 2002 and 2006 Olympics, expressed a similar sentiment.
"Skiing was my passion. I aspired to great things. I had dreams and skiing was my life. The sexual abuse I suffered completely destroyed my self-confidence. My self-esteem was annihilated and my daily interactions with other people were greatly affected by the sexual assaults. My adolescence was in no way normal. It was a nightmare," said Simard.
Charest was convicted on 37 counts of sexual assault and related charges for a series of crimes committed in the 1990s.
Judge Sylvain Lepine called Charest a sexual predator who took advantage of his victims, all of whom were between 12 and 19 years old when the crimes were committed.
Judge Lepine said in his ruling that Alpine Canada had ignored Charest's actions, a sentiment that was echoed by Prchal.
"Worst of all they made me feel like I had done something wrong. As with most victims of abuse I have lived with the feeling that this was my fault," said Prchal.
Kelly said her personality changed after she was abused.
"I used to be funny, smiling and very sociable but because of this manuipulator, I became sad and withdrawn and someone who felt like a complete loser," said Kelly.
Demand for supervision and training across Canada
Frederique-Gagnon, Kelly, Prchal, and Simard said they want a protection program that includes mandatory training for all coaches, volunteers, and everyone in the entourage of an athlete.
Kelly, who has three children, said she would never let them compete under the existing rules.
"It is urgent that we put in place a system that allows our children to be safe," she said. "I don't want any one to go through what I did: being manipulated, denigrated and belittled. This has had an impact on my life right up until today."
One of the rules the group wants is very simple: the mandatory use of a buddy system so that an adult is never left alone with a child athlete for an extended period of time.
Their third goal is the creation of an independent officer to deal with incidents that arise.
They called on Ottawa to use its leverage, and said that organized sports associations should only be eligible for federal funding if they have implemented these guidelines to prevent sexual abuse.
B2Ten, a Montreal-based philanthropy group that funds athletes, said it is willing to push for the adoption of the quartet's suggestions.
"We believe that it would be in the interest of the government of Canada, who is financing these organizations, and ultimately we believe has liability for what happens in these organizations, to require online training of athletes, of coaches, of service professionals, and of the boards of directors who are ultimately responsible for the governance of the organizaions," said JD Miller of B2Ten
The four, along with B2Ten, are talking to sport organizations across Quebec and Canada, and said while their guidelines are being welcomed in this province, they have had a harder time in dealing with national organizations.
Regardless, they hope their guidelines will be adopted across Canada by April 1, 2020.