Behind the hair bows and pom-poms, cheerleading has at times provided a safe harbor for sexual molesters.
A 55-year-old Los Angeles cheer coach, Michael Edmond, was charged last year with sexually abusing five girls as young as 9 years old.
San Antonio cheerleading and gymnastics coach Robert Thomas Kortara, 33, was accused of sexually assaulting a teen girl while his young child played nearby in the room.
And a recent USA Today investigation found 180 people accused of sexual improprieties with minors were allowed to stay involved with cheerleading instead of being banned by the governing bodies USASF and USA Cheer.
Cheerleading has gone from sideline supporters to a sport of its own with national competitions and almost 4 million participants.
“Because the sport has grown so quickly, there’s this huge problem with sexual assault,” said Rich Newsome of Newsome Melton. “It’s an industry that has gotten ahead of itself. The industry needs to do more to make sure guidelines are in effect to protect these young people.”
The Netflix show “Cheer” about the Navarro College team brought more attention to the sport. But in September, one of the stars of that show was arrested by the FBI and charged with producing child pornography. According to court records, USA Today said, he admitted having sex with a 15-year old at a cheerleading competition and with exchanging explicit messages with other minors.
The family of twin brothers who were 13 when they said Harris began trying to sexually exploit them – has filed a federal civil suit against Harris and USASF and other cheerleading organizations. Harris led one of the brothers to a secluded bathroom at a cheerleading competition and begged for oral sex, the lawsuit said, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
The USA Today stories identified loopholes that allowed sexual predators to stay involved in the sport. Background checks, for instance, are only done on coaches going backstage or to the warmup area during competition. One woman convicted of sexually battering a minor kept working in her gym, which was in the name of her sister. And many convicted predators were not listed on the list of banned coaches and vendors kept by the governing organizations.
“I think that the culture of the sport kind of created an unfortunate perfect breeding ground for children to be taken advantage of,” Dana Moore Storms, a former cheerleading coach and mother of a 13-year-old cheerleader in California told Teen Vogue.
Newsome said those responsible for keeping young cheerleaders safe should be held accountable, such as through civil suits.
“Until you hit them hard and set an example, they’re not going to change their business practices.”
If you have questions about this topic or need assistance filing a claim, Newsome Melton can help. Contact us at 1-888-380-2809.