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Friday, September 29, 2023

Amid U.S. Open Fanfare, U.S.T.A. Fights Questions of Its Dealing with of Sexual Abuse

For a number of months, the US Tennis Affiliation has positioned this 12 months’s U.S. Open as a key second to have fun its 50-year document of management on ladies’s fairness and empowerment, tied to its cost of equal prize cash to its high gamers.

On the similar time, it has been litigating its dealing with of accusations of sexual assault made by a feminine participant who labored with a male coach at the usT.A.’s marquee coaching middle in Florida, with depositions which have included detailed questioning in regards to the girl’s sexual historical past.

Kylie McKenzie, a 24-year-old from Arizona who was as soon as one of the vital promising junior gamers within the nation, sued the usT.A. final 12 months, claiming the group had failed to guard her from a coach who inappropriately touched her after a observe in 2018, when she was 19 and he was 34.

Makes an attempt to mediate a settlement haven’t been profitable, prompting attorneys to start to depose witnesses as they put together for a attainable trial.

Throughout these depositions, a lawyer for the usT.A. requested McKenzie about what number of sexual companions she had had earlier than the incident, about medicines she had taken to deal with anxiousness and despair, and in regards to the nature of her discussions along with her therapist.

The lawyer requested the participant’s mom, Kathleen McKenzie, whether or not she knew that her daughter had taken contraception drugs and a morning-after capsule.

The varieties of questions, although frequent in lawsuits centered on sexual abuse, have been broadly criticized by advocates for victims, who say they discourage ladies from coming ahead when they’re abused.

“That is what all the time occurs,” mentioned Pam Shriver, a former participant and tv commentator who was deposed within the case as a witness for McKenzie, and who has labored with the usT.A. on and off for years.

In an announcement, Chris Widmaier, chief spokesman for the usT.A., mentioned the group had “no intention of revictimizing or shaming” McKenzie in any method. “We got inconsistent testimony and have been merely looking for to find out which model was true,” he mentioned.

Shriver testified that U.S.T.A.’s high lawyer, Staciellen Mischel, final 12 months warned her to “watch out” about her public statements on sexual abuse in tennis. Shriver has turn into an ally of McKenzie’s since going public along with her personal story of abuse final 12 months in an interview with The New York Occasions.

When a lawyer representing the usT.A. within the McKenzie case requested Shriver whether or not anybody at the usT.A. had discouraged her from talking out about sexual abuse, she responded: “Relies upon the way you interpret the dialog from Staciellen. A part of my interpretation was that I wanted to watch out. And in that interpretation, which means don’t say an excessive amount of.”

When requested about Mischel’s dialog with Shriver, Widmaier mentioned the group had deep sympathy for Shriver. “We might by no means stifle anybody from telling her story,” he mentioned.

McKenzie’s case stems from her work with a coach, Anibal Aranda, who labored at the usT.A.’s middle. The group had supported her growth since she was 12, and she or he had hung out coaching at its facilities in California and Florida. McKenzie described an escalation of bodily contact and isolation that made her uncomfortable. She initially thought that Aranda had totally different norms for bodily contact as a result of he had grown up in Paraguay earlier than shifting to the US. Then, on Nov. 9, 2018, Aranda sat near her on a bench after observe in order that their legs have been touching after which put his hand between her thighs, she mentioned.

McKenzie rapidly reported the incident to associates, kinfolk, U.S.T.A. officers and regulation enforcement. The united statesT.A. promptly suspended after which fired Aranda, who denied touching McKenzie inappropriately. A prolonged investigation by the U.S. Middle for SafeSport, the group tasked with investigating sexual and bodily abuse claims in sports activities, discovered it “extra probably than not” that Aranda had assaulted McKenzie. The police took an announcement from McKenzie, acknowledged there was possible trigger for a cost of battery after which turned the proof over to native prosecutors, who opted to not pursue a prison case.

Aranda didn’t return repeated messages looking for remark.

McKenzie mentioned she quickly started to expertise panic assaults and despair, which have hampered her makes an attempt to progress in her sport.

In the course of the SafeSport investigation, a U.S.T.A. worker mentioned that Aranda had groped her and touched her vagina over her garments at a New York dance membership round 2015. She didn’t disclose the incident to anybody on the time. The worker advised SafeSport that after she realized about McKenzie’s accusations, she regretted not reporting her interplay with Aranda.

Widmaier has mentioned beforehand that the usT.A. solely realized in regards to the accusations made by one in all its workers towards Aranda after McKenzie reported her grievance to the authorities, and that it moved to fireplace Aranda instantly.

McKenzie has spent the 12 months taking part in in lower-tier tournaments whereas battling anxiousness and despair. As of late final month, she was ranked 820th on the earth.

In April, weeks after she made the ultimate of a match in Tunisia, she testified for seven hours in her pretrial deposition. Kevin Shaughnessy, a lawyer at BakerHostetler representing the usT.A, requested her in regards to the weeks main as much as the 2018 incident, and questioned why McKenzie didn’t report earlier cases of inappropriate touching by Aranda throughout exercises as he coached her on methods to serve.

McKenzie mentioned she didn’t anticipate Aranda’s conduct to escalate and that she didn’t anticipate to be pursued sexually. “I used to be naïve,” she mentioned.

Shaughnessy then requested her whether or not she had had a boyfriend beforehand, or if she had ever had a man “come on” to her earlier than. When McKenzie mentioned she was not likely concerned with boys on the time, he requested in regards to the variety of sexual companions she had had and whether or not she had been intimate with a selected participant on the coaching middle.

In July, Shaughnessy deposed McKenzie’s mom and requested whether or not she had been advised by one other U.S.T.A. coach when McKenzie was 14 that her social life was getting in the best way of her tennis, and that she ought to have her telephone taken away as a result of she had kissed a boy. Kathleen McKenzie was additionally requested if her daughter had ever believed she was pregnant.

Robert Allard, McKenzie’s legal professional and a specialist in representing victims of sexual assault in sports activities, mentioned the usT.A.’s questioning confirmed a method of “belittling, embarrassing and intimidating survivors.”

Shriver, who has labored to assist the usT.A.’s efforts to extend participation and helped increase cash for the group and its basis, mentioned she was initially torn when Allard requested her to testify. Nonetheless, she has made supporting tennis gamers who’re assault victims a precedence.

“In the long run, I really feel an actual pull to assist and provides some perspective to what it’s wish to be a participant and have a training scenario not be skilled,” Shriver mentioned on Friday on the U.S. Open, the place she was commentating for ESPN. “I really feel like supporting younger ladies who’ve been traumatized.”

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