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Safe4Athletes

Now 44, she has been reborn as Katherine Starr, changing her name in 2006. For decades, she remained silent about her alleged abuse. But now, she said, she wants to make sure that what happened to her as a 14-year-old and continued until she was 21 never happens again.

In January, she started Safe4Athletes, a non-profit advocacy group based in Santa Monica, Calif. One of Starr's main consultants for her fledgling group is Donna Lopiano, Texas' first women's athletic director who also headed the Women's Sports Foundation.

Starr shunned her swimming past for years, though she now freely discusses it while promoting Safe4Athletes, using herself as a cautionary tale. Her intended audiences are young athletes — many of them involved in club sports — and their parents.

She is matter-of-fact, yet descriptive, about what she has experienced. She admits to having been a "troubled teenager," then an introverted alcoholic through her 20s. She said she has been sober for 13 years.

Fortunately for Starr, her business life never suffered. She worked as a business consultant with Fortune 500 companies and now produces commercials and documentaries. She's also working on a movie.

"I shared to therapists, and it was never addressed properly," Starr said. "I was stuck in the trauma and nowhere to go with it besides alcohol. I spoke to no one for years and stared at my feet. It wasn't until I was 18 months sober that I could stand tall and straight and look someone in the eye."

Starr now is trying to generate as much publicity as possible for her organization. Her group, which is managed by Community Partners Los Angeles, held its main fundraiser last week in Los Angeles at the home of former mayor Richard Riordan. Former Olympians were guests of honor.

Starr, who is planning a fundraiser in Austin this fall, also blogs her thoughts for HuffingtonPost.com and posts on Twitter to bring attention to what she and others in her organization liken to terrorism against young athletes.

From 2000 to 2010, USA Swimming disciplined 36 coaches for sexual misconduct, and American gymnasts recently have come forward to talk about the abuse they say they suffered decades ago.

This kind of abuse has made international headlines. Back in 1997, a famed Canadian junior hockey coach pleaded guilty to 350 charges of sexual abuse. A study in Australia conducted a decade ago found that nearly one-third of the country's top female athletes as well as a fifth of the male athletes said they had been sexually abused, not always by their coaches. Olga Korbut, the Russian gymnast who charmed the world at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, even has publicly talked about being what she described as a sex slave to her coach when she was a teenager.

Starr's organization features an Internet hub with information that any athlete, parent or club coach would need. Eventually, she said, Safe4Athletes wants to partner with the governing bodies of the various sports organizations to make sure there is a standard code of conduct that coaches must follow.

At a minimum, Starr wants education and awareness resources to be available so that athletes can seek counseling or contact legal authorities if they are being abused. Meanwhile, the group's website maintains a database of coaches who have been banned by their sports for misconduct.

Attorney and professor Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a three-time Olympic gold medalist herself and a national authority on Title IX, is advising Starr's group. Hogshead-Makar was 19 and a swimmer at Duke when she reported being raped by an unknown attacker who had grabbed her as she jogged on campus.

Hogshead-Makar, senior director of advocacy of the Women's Sports Foundation, said when she was swimming in the 1980s, it was "normal for coaches to date athletes. Everybody knew it. It upset the whole coach-athlete dynamic."

But that kind of behavior no longer is legally tolerated for coaches employed by schools or universities.

"At least there's something," Hogshead-Makar said. "In club sports, there's nothing."

Lopiano received an unsolicited call from Starr a year ago. Lopiano said at the time, she had no idea that Starr used to be the young Longhorns swimmer she knew as Annabelle or about her past as an abuse victim.

But after hearing Starr's story and business pitch, Lopiano said she immediately recognized the need for such an advocacy group.

"It's a power relationship — the coach over the athlete. The coach is god," Lopiano said. "... There's a power imbalance and (for the athlete) absence of knowledge."

No more can be done to punish Starr's former coach. Hickson, who was imprisoned in 1995 but never admitted to guilt, died in England two days after Christmas 2008.

Starr wasn't one of the 13 swimmers who accused Hickson and testified against him in 1995. She said she couldn't even tell her parents what had happened to her a decade earlier.

Starr said it wasn't until one day when Hickson called her mother to tell her about what was being said about him that she finally revealed what had happened to her. She said she was the only girl swimmer in her training group, which she said she later learned was by Hickson's design. Starr said she was raped only once by Hickson, when she was 14, but that she had to fight off his advances for a decade.

She said Hickson retaliated by keeping her off international teams. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, he scratched her from a relay.

"He said I wasn't pretty enough," Starr recalled.

In 1995, a British court found Hickson guilty of 15 charges, ranging from rape to indecent assault, that spanned 1975 to 1991. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Starr was able to get some closure last year, when with the help of Hogshead-Makar, she filed a police report detailing her years of abuse. In the report, she recalled how Hickson gave her a beer as she sat watching television on a spring night in 1982. The coach then attempted to seduce her and mocked her lanky frame as being overweight before raping her. "It was in that moment that my soul left me and has never returned," she told London police.

It was only after she had contacted the police that she learned of her former coach's death.

"When I found out he was dead, it kind of took the wind out of my sails," Starr said. "There was no accountability for what he did to me."

She has, however, rediscovered the vigor to fight.

"I never spoke about my career or that I swam," she said. "I threw out most of my medals, and only have some of them because a friend dug them out of the trash. When we reconnected a few years ago, he sent them back to me, thinking I might want them one day."

That day is here. There will be more media interviews to promote her cause. And she'll return to London for the Olympics, a trip that may give her final closure, three decades after the fact.

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