Former USA Gymnastics Student, Becca Seaborn: Coaches’ Hugs Make her Cringe

Becca Seaborn, who was sexually abused by her gymnastics coach starting at age ten, is now a 26-year-old mother of one, and is critical of USA Gymnastics' handling of sexual abuse allegations, including hers. (Robert Scheer/IndyStar) Robert Scheer/IndyStar
Becca Seaborn, who was sexually abused by her gymnastics coach starting at age ten, is now a 26-year-old mother of one, and is critical of USA Gymnastics’ handling of sexual abuse allegations, including hers. (Robert Scheer/IndyStar) Robert Scheer/IndyStar

Former gymnast Becca Seaborn watches the sport on television with a genuine appreciation for the athleticism. But one part makes her cringe.

It’s when a male coach hugs a female gymnast after her routine.

“I honestly have a hard time seeing that,” said Seaborn, who was molested by her coach starting when she was 10. Seaborn is now 26. She is building a life of her own, moving past the pain. Still, she said, “because of what happened, my mind goes to the worst.”

A jury in 2003 found Becca’s predator, Mark Schiefelbein, guilty of seven counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor. He was sentenced to 96 years in prison, which was later reduced to 36 years.

Early in the trial, prosecutors learned that USA Gymnastics had compiled a thick file of prior complaints about Schiefelbein, without forwarding them to authorities. So Schiefelbein moved from gyms in California, Utah, Texas and Illinois before getting a coaching job in Tennessee, where he met Becca’s parents, Ross and Jill Robinson.

He became a family friend. He had dinner at their home. He went to hockey games with Ross.

He told Becca she was his favorite gymnast, and not to tell anyone about the touching. It would only get him in trouble. Becca testified that she stayed silent for more than a year because she was scared to make her coach angry. She also was scared that her parents would be disappointed in her. And, she said, she was embarrassed.

“In her heart, she knew it was wrong, but at the same time, being that young, she was confused about what to do, how to handle it,” Ross Robinson told IndyStar. “They don’t have the emotional mechanism in place or the maturity to handle that.”

At the sentencing, the Robinsons described the human toll on Becca.

They said she suffered from “severe nightmares,” including one in which her predator was chasing her to touch or kill her. In another version of the nightmare, the coach would force her to watch him touch other people. She would wake up crying.

She was afraid to go out alone. She lost friends who didn’t believe her. Counseling, the Robinsons said, helped Becca control anger and do better in school.

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SOURCE: Mark Alesia, mark.alesia@indystar.com 
IndyStar