Olympic swimmer Ariana Kukors Smith said we need to “prevent this from happening to the next person.”
When Olympic swimmer Ariana Kukors Smith decided in February to publicly reveal the sexual abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of her longtime swim coach, Sean Hutchison, the Federal Way native knew she was committing herself to a long, uphill fight.
Kukors Smith announced Monday she has filed a civil lawsuit against USA Swimming and several other entities, alleging they covered up their knowledge of Hutchison’s alleged abuse.
“When I decided to go public and share my story, I said I was going to do it as loudly as I possibly could,” Kukors Smith said. “Because there’s no glory in standing here baring the most vulnerable, horrific parts of yourself with the cameras in front of you.”
The goal, she said, is to ensure USA Swimming is held accountable for its failure to act, and to keep it from happening again.
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“We need to take proactive accountability so we can move forward and prevent this from happening to the next person,” said Kukors Smith, 28. “There are children being abused right now that are in danger and need help.”
At a news conference at the Four Seasons Hotel on Monday, Kukors Smith and her legal team drew parallels between this case and the USA Gymnastics case in which former team doctor Larry Nassar was found guilty of sexual abusing dozens of women over a long span.
“The USA Gymnastics case with the sheer number of victims clearly illustrates that this is not limited to Ariana Smith,” said Michael Leininger, a former police sergeant who’s part of Kukors Smith’s legal team that conducted its own investigation into the case. “There are many more victims out there, and we encourage you to come forward and tell your story.”
Deciding to go public was tough, said Kukors Smith, who began therapy last October as she struggled to come to terms with everything that has happened to her.
That “was when I said the word ‘depression’ for the first time, and I realized, and my husband and I realized, that I needed to get help and really start to understand what had happened,” Kukors Smith said.
She alleges Hutchison starting grooming her for future sexual abuse from the time she was 13, and that the abuse began about two years later.
Hutchison denied Kukors Smith’s allegations in a statement issued in February, stating “at no time did I ever abuse Ariana Kukors Smith or do anything with her that was not consensual.”
To that, Kukors Smith says this.
“The word ‘consensual’ that he used, my answer would be when he began abusing me, I was 15 years old. At that point, my relationship and sexual maturity were stunted,” Kukors Smith said Monday. “So the entire time that we were in a ‘relationship,’ I was 15. And that’s the truth of it.
“It was a man who held my Olympic dream in the palm of his hand, who said I couldn’t swim fast for anyone else, that I could only swim fast for him.”
Kukors Smith said she decided to swim at the University of Washington because Hutchison demanded she stay close to him, and added he was the reason she eventually moved to Southern California. He’d taken a coaching job in Fullerton and asked, again, that she stay close.
“Every single part of my career, every single part of my life was navigated by him,” Kukors Smith said. “That was all I knew. He programmed me to believe that was my truth.”
Kukors Smith now lives in Manhattan Beach, Calif., with her husband, Matthew Smith, who’s been a pillar of support for her.
“It’s been a process in these last few months of really understanding,” Kukors Smith said. “I’m grateful to my husband. He was the one who stepped in a year and a half ago and told Sean to leave us alone.”
Kukors Smith said Hutchison continued to message and call her even after she and her husband got engaged in the fall of 2016.
“After one conversation, my husband realized that had gone on long enough. He could see what Sean was doing — still trying to manipulate and control me in the background,” Kukors Smith said. “He ended up stepping in and telling him to never contact us again.
“That was the last day I heard from Sean, and I will forever be grateful for the strength that (Smith) showed because he was the person who stood up and protected me for the first time.”
This lawsuit is Kukors Smith’s way of standing up for past and future victims of sexual abuse.
“What happened in 2005, 2006 and 2007 when people were passing rumors (about Hutchison’s alleged sexual abuse)? Who dropped the ball? Who within USA Swimming, and within these organizations were the ones who enabled the abuse to continue to happen?” Kukors Smith said. “You hear (things like) ‘Oh this could be bad for our image, this could be messy, I’m sure she’s fine.’
“That’s a child. That’s a child who, now, I’m 28, and I’m sitting here and my husband has to, a month ago, sit on the floor with me and I’m sobbing and screaming because I feel so much pain inside and he has no idea how to help me.”
Unblinking, Kukors Smith looked around the room.
“Those are the moments I don’t want you to see because that is too much for public consumption,” she said. “Those are bad days, and I know I still have bad days ahead. Just, hopefully, not as many.”