Don’t Ever Be Afraid to Speak Up

I read an article the other day that left my blood boiling and my jaw clenched. It was THIS article, and basically states that a woman was suing the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) for not banning a high-profile volleyball coach who she claims sexually abused her years earlier.

This article hit pretty close to home because years earlier, while not as extreme and damaging, a similar situation happened to me.

And I am angry that this is happening to young girls and being brushed off.

I was sixteen years old and on a traveling club volleyball team. Because of the level of intensity, we practiced a lot, thus spending many hours together. And overall, some of my best high school memories came from this team.

That is, until my coach ruined it all.

My soon-to-be coach, who I will call Sam Jones, came to my high school recruiting players for an elite volleyball club team. He spoke to parents. He gained everyone’s trust. He promised scholarships.

Everything was fine when we first began. It was hard, time-consuming, but fun, too. We traveled all over and did quite well.

image1

My coach first started acting inappropriately by slapping the players on the behind. At the time, while awkward, no one said anything. But now, looking back on it, he should not have been touching any of us in any way.

Two instances took place during my time on that team before I ultimately gave up my goal. The first happened while in another state while traveling. My coach asked me to come see him in his room to talk about volleyball.

Being the naive sixteen-year-old that I was, I thought nothing of it and obliged. I had no reason to question anything.

The door shut behind me and he began discussing volleyball, as he had said. But before I knew it, I realized that I should not have been in that room alone.  I was in a very uncomfortable position wishing immediately that I had never gone. Massaging my shoulders in a very inappropriate position, fear streamed through my body. I felt trapped and kept looking to the door, wishing for someone to knock giving me an escape. Not sure of his temperament, I didn’t want to upset him as I didn’t know what would happen. I quickly made up an excuse saying I had told a fellow teammate I would be there to see her soon and I got out of there as quickly as I could.

Feeling ashamed and scared, I left in tears but quickly pulled myself together before anyone saw me. I was humiliated by what had just happened and just wanted it all to be forgotten. I was able to get out of there before anything horrible happened, but it was close.

Utterly confused and upset, I didn’t know what to do. I knew I could no longer be around that man as I was too scared by what might happen. But that also meant I would be forced to quit the team. The team I had spent so many hours with. Made so many memories with. Worked so hard with.

So hard, that we had made it to the Junior Olympics. So my decision was to either suck it up and carry on with our achievement by staying with the team long enough to go to the Junior Olympics or to quit right then and forego this experience.

Ultimately, I quit the team. And it hurt. 

I received e-mails from my coach asking me to return. I made up excuses why I couldn’t. He then asked me to come at least say goodbye to the team before they left for the tournament.

Missing my team, I agreed. So naively agreed.

Something I wish I didn’t do. Part of me thought maybe I was overreacting and that what had previously happened wasn’t what I had thought. Deep down I knew that wasn’t true, but  I’ve always been one to try and see the good in people, and this trait ended up doing me harm instead of good.

I arrived at the end of practice and was merrily greeted by my old teammates. Staying to talk to my good friend, the other girls had left, but there were usually other coaches around. My old coach then asked me to stay a minute longer, which I didn’t respond yes or no to, I just stared back. I thought he was going to ask me once more to join the team at the tournament.

I wished I had had the courage to just leave. Looking around for someone, anyone, left in the building, I quickly realized he had done it again. And I felt so incredibly stupid for being alone with him.

He had me cornered.

Backed against a wall, he professed his fantasies and desires, touching my midsection, breathing down my neck. Absolutely terrified, shocked, and disgusted, I looked for the fastest way out of there without saying a word. I could not believe what was happening. This man, this old disgusting man, was not the trustworthy person he made himself out to be.  And with each word, I cringed. But I also didn’t want to spook him into anger, so once again I made up a very quick excuse and I bolted. And as I drove away, I bawled my eyes out.

I drove straight to my friend’s house and I told her everything. I was humiliated. She was equally as mortified.  I wanted to tell my mom. But the humility for getting myself into such a position was almost too much. And now I see why so many things are left unspoken. Why so many women remain quiet.  Somehow, these beings are able to manipulate women in such a way that they don’t tell.  What Sam Jones was hoping for was the vulnerable sixteen-year-old who had lost her father years earlier. Impressionable. Lost. Seeking attention.

But this girl was not me.

I should have quit the team much earlier. I should have never gone in that room alone. I should have never gone to say goodbye to my team.

After a couple of days, I couldn’t take it any longer and came home from my friend’s house at about 10 pm,  went to my mom’s room, woke her up, and told her everything. Of course, all the emotions were running rampant. My mom told me that we needed to call the police. And with tear-brimmed eyes, I nodded and agreed, knowing it was the right thing to do, while still terrifying.

The next morning the police were called, and before I knew it I was sitting at our kitchen table filling out a police report.

I stayed in bed for three days, devastated by what that man had done to me. By what he took away from me. I adored my team, and he stripped that from me.

image2

I wanted it all to go away. But I also didn’t want this to happen to anyone else. Now that I knew what kind of man he truly was, I didn’t want something even worse to happen to another girl.

Sam Jones also worked at the Capitol building and was pretty high up on the importance scale in the city we lived in and was equally established in the volleyball world.  It was his word against mine; a sixteen-year-old girl against a fifty-something man.

But, I put my fears behind me and we took him to court.

On that day, my nerves were running extremely high. As we parked our car outside the courthouse, there he stood, three stories up, staring out the window at me and my parents. At this point, my heart could be heard beating outside my chest. He was trying to intimidate me.

Once inside the courtroom, I saw that he had brought his family with him; his wife and two young children. And this made me disgusted and MAD. He was trying to evoke sympathy, to show that he was a family man. I looked at his wife and wanted so badly for her to understand what a complete creep her husband was. I felt bad for her. I still do.

Trying to remain poised, I was instructed to take the stand and to tell what had happened. His lawyer, questioning me, my lawyer, questioning me.

I kept it together. And in fact, I did quite well.  His lawyer tried to get me to admit that someone else had written the police report; that surely I wasn’t capable of writing so well. I shut that down pretty quickly, though. “What part of it do you not understand?” He was not going to crush me.

Sam Jones denied everything.

Of course he did. This kind of thing could ruin his career. Ruin his marriage. Ruin his life.

With his word against mine, we left that day victorious.

The judge sided with our party and a restraining order was granted and he was charged with “annoying a minor.” He was no longer allowed anywhere near me.

I wish he had been charged with more, but being that I was able to get away each time, that was all he could be charged with. My satisfaction came from knowing this was now on record. That at the very least, maybe it would cause him to think twice the next time. Or that if it ever happened again, he would be punished further with this now documented.

Before today, not many people knew about this part of my past. While I decided not to let it burden me, I still felt the embarrassment that something like that had happened. I wish then I would have had the courage to say to him what he deserves to hear; that he is a disgusting animal that should be punished, humiliated and ashamed.

I learned a very important lesson through all of this, though.

That even though someone may appear established and trustworthy, to always take caution. Never again would I be alone with a man like that. Instead, I would always take a friend with me, everywhere.

This is something I am going to instill in our children. To always be on the lookout. Not to be scared of everyone, but to be cautious. To speak up at the first sign of any strange behavior and to know that we will always be there for them.

There are way too many creeps out there who need to be shut down.

I am proud for speaking up and doing what I could to shut that man down.

As it turns out, we later learned that this was not the first time Sam Jones was caught acting inappropriately with his players. But, it was the first time it was recorded in court.

Speaking up was the right thing to do.

image1 (34)

 

Comments

  1. Wow, what a powerful story. I am so sorry you went through this. I agree we need to have more discussions about sexual abuse and stop blaming victims!

  2. Damn girl. THANK YOU for speaking out and filing that police report. Men can be such scumbags. I’m so sorry he ruined that special time in your life. But you did the right thing. Hopefully he won’t ever do that to anyone else again and if he does, he’ll get what’s coming to him.

    • Thank you so much, Rachel! I really appreciate these words and that was my goal- to help prevent this from happening again!

  3. I am so sorry that this happened to you! I am constantly infuriated at the victim blaming and shaming that I see on the news regarding stories like these. THank you so much for being brave and sharing your story!

  4. Your courage is inspiring and thank you for sharing your story. I truly believe it will help another young girl in the same situation. If not many.

    My cousin and I were victims of abuse many years ago. She is still in a lot of pain and letting it control her. I chose to speak up and learn ways to heal and am doing fine.

    We should always speak up!

    • Gosh, Linda, I am SO sorry to hear that! It is sickening how common this is. Proud of you for speaking up! It can really be healing!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Shannon, this is crazy! How horrible and disgusting, and at that age, it’s so hard to make any decision that distances you from your best friends. It must’ve been so hard!! As moms of little girls, the thought of that happening to our daughters is beyond infuriating. It’s sickening. Thank you for sharing! Xo

    • Anonymous says:

      Oops, this is Hilary.

    • Hilary,
      Thank you! It was an awful time!! Now being a mother, I am hyper-sensitive to everything surrounding this issue. I’ve already begun speaking to Gwyn about this topic, and will do the same for my boys as well. Thank you for reaching out!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    “That even though someone may appear established and trustworthy, to always take caution. Never again would I be alone with a man like that. Instead, I would always take a friend with me, everywhere.
    This is something I am going to instill in our children. To always be on the lookout. Not to be scared of everyone, but to be cautious. To speak up at the first sign of any strange behavior and to know that we will always be there for them.”

    GREAT point and advice here! You’re incredibly brave for having come forward. I applaud you! And, this many years later to continue to on your journey to help others…Thank you! I will be speaking to all of my children.

    • Thank you so much!! That was my initial goal; to hopefully spark more conversations about this topic!

  7. That’s a powerful story. Speaking up is hard because you don’t want to be judged or anything and I’m guilty of this too and it’s hard. Great post to share and let other’s know about it.

    • Thank you so very much. You are right, the fear of being judged isn’t a pleasant feeling; but the reality of what may come from sharing is much more beneficial and worth the risk!

  8. THANK YOU for speaking up about this. As a childhood sexual abuse survivor, your story very much resonates. The more light we can shine into this topic, the more justice survivors will get, and hopefully we can prevent this from happening in the future!

    • Mia, Ia SOoo very sorry to hear! I am learning more than ever how common this is! So disheartening! You are so brave- thank you for opening up- like you said, it needs to happen more so these horrible people might think twice!!

  9. Thank you for having the courage to share your story! I’m having a daughter in October and I want to teach her to always trust her instincts and not to be afraid to speak up and be brave like you were. It’s so sad you had to give up something you really loved because of one deluded man.

    • It really is so sad we have to be so cautious, but better cautious than a victim. And thank you very much!! Many blessings to you and your daughter!!

  10. You’re very brave for sharing this….and for sharing what happened back then. There are definitely a lot of horrible people in the world and i hate that. I hate that we have to be so cautious, but it’s important too. You did the right thing.

Speak Your Mind