As is true about the origins of many not-for-profit organizations, Safe4Athletes was born out of the personal experience of its founder, Katherine Starr. Having being an elite athlete who endured sexual abuse during the course of her career with no resources available to help her, she simply wanted to do something to ensure that athletes following in her footsteps did not have to repeat her experience. In her own words…
As Annabelle Cripps, I started swimming at a very young age and showed promise from my first stroke in the pool. I won just about every race growing up setting many state records that still stand today. My desire to be a champion swimmer was not just from me but my parents supported my dream too.
My swimming career continued to show a lot of promise and at the young age of 14 I was world ranked for the first time. I wish that was all that happened to me that year. However, a month or two after experiencing that achievement I was also raped by my swim coach. As I continued to excel in sport, making two Olympic teams (Great Britain), so did the sexual harassment and abuse. I was often portrayed on the pool deck as the “troubled kid” when I fought back from the abuse. All the while, my coach, the head Olympic coach for my country, gained power and prestige.
There was no protection from the adults around me and nowhere for me to turn to for help. When I spoke up, I was told that I needed to do “what the coach said.” I felt so hopeless and alone.
After many years of addressing this issue head on, I realized that the heartache was still with me. It occurred to me that the only healing that could take place would come from changing the culture in the amateur sports community, to one that put athlete welfare and safety in a positive sport environment as a primary responsibility and free from sexual abuse, bullying and harassment. I am now Katherine Starr, the founder and President of Safe4Athletes.
In the summer of 2011, Starr contacted former teammates, sport administrators and others to ask if they would help form a non-profit organization to help abused athletes and their parents and provide model policies and procedures to sports clubs so they are prepared to protect young athletes. Safe4Athletes was envisioned as a national advocacy organization dedicated to athlete welfare -- where every athlete is provided a safe and positive environment free of sexual abuse, bullying and harassment.
In the fall of 2011, Safe4Athletes, received its not-for-profit status under the fiscal sponsorship of Community Partners of Los Angeles. Community Partners is an innovative agency that supports numerous emerging non-profit initiatives, managing the organization’s finance, human resources and legal compliance needs while the new project focuses on building the capacity needed to accomplish its mission.
The remainder of 2011 was spent beginning to assemble the Safe4Athletes governance and advisory committees, drafting the strategic plan, developing model policies and educational materials, building a web site, and raising funds that would enable the project to become a reality. Key to bringing the organization to life were the efforts of Starr and three consultants: Joanne A. Fortunato, Ph.D., the former Commissioner of the California Community College Commission on Athletics who served as a pre-launch operations administrator, and volunteer advisors Nancy Hogshead-Makar, J.D., Senior Director of Advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation, Professor of Law at Florida Coastal University and former 3-time Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer and Donna Lopiano, Ph.D., President of Sports Management Resources, former CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation and former Director of Women’s Athletics at the University of Texas at Austin.
Safe4Athletes was formally announced in January of 2012 with the launch of its web site and availability of all services.