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Abuse Victim Katherine Starr Launches Safe4Athletes

Paul Steinbach

She still holds Wisconsin swimming records for 13- and 14-year-old girls 30 years after setting them, but Katherine Starr has surrendered much in her life - innocence, Olympic dreams, even the name she was born with.

Photo of Katherine StarrPhoto of Katherine Starr

She still holds Wisconsin swimming records for 13- and 14-year-old girls 30 years after setting them, but Katherine Starr has surrendered much in her life - innocence, Olympic dreams, even the name she was born with. The daughter of English emigrants, Annabelle Cripps was raped by her head coach at age 14, two years before competing for Great Britain in the first of two Olympic Games. Sacrificing her training regimen to avoid further contact with Paul Hickson, who would serve 17 years in prison after abusing several girls and women he coached, Cripps turned in what she describes as "horrible" Olympic performances in both 1984 and '88. Six years ago, with life as Annabelle Cripps getting harder to live, she changed her name and her outlook. This past January, Starr launched Safe4Athletes, an organization that sets policies and procedures for sports administrators to implement at the local level. Safe4Athletes (www.safe4athletes.org) will then investigate reports of policy violations and post online the names of violators, with the goal of eventually weeding from the coaching ranks those who engage in questionable - if not criminal - behavior. Paul Steinbach asked Starr to bring us up to speed.

Q: Where did the idea behind Safe4Athletes originate?
A: I was coaching a year ago, and that's when I realized that the problem still persisted in sports. It wasn't that I witnessed sexual abuse. What I witnessed was the same dynamic of parents turning power over to the coach, and I realized very quickly how easy it is to manipulate that power. Parents were saying, "If you want to yell at our kids, that's fine." And it was so not me. I was just like, "Really? I passed a background check and I have my basic licensing, but you really still don't know who I am." I was in a position to manipulate, and that's what bothered me.

Q: How does Safe4Athletes change that dynamic?
A: Part of our policies and procedures is to have an athlete-welfare advocate available to the athletes. They know his or her e-mail and phone, and if something were to arise, whether it's bullying, sexual abuse or harassment, they have an outlet.

Q: What's expected of the coaches themselves?
A: All coaches are required to sign a code of ethics that states, for example, that there be no consent of relationship with an athlete, regardless of age. So if a coach were to violate that or another Safe4Athletes policy, we can list him or her on our website, saying which policy section he or she violated. Parents then know about it. They likely wouldn't know about it otherwise. Oftentimes, coaches just get fired. When these incidents come up, nobody investigates them. Nobody figures them out. Coaches just move on to the next place, constantly one step ahead of their wreckage. I want to be able to build this up over time to where we're shortening their lie. We have a solution that protects kids in amateur sports, and that's my interest - putting an infrastructure in place where I feel confident these children can excel in their gifts and not be affected by abuse of any kind.

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