A Call for Witnesses: Survivors of Conal Groom
Rowing coach Conal Groom was a highly respected and decorated instructor who had risen to become one of the top junior rowing coaches in the sport. However, despite his credentials as a leading coach for national and international rowing teams, he allegedly verbally and physically abused his students and may have even committed sexual assault against underage female rowers.
Worse still, these allegations may have been ignored or downplayed by authorities, including regulators associated with rowing. According to a story published in the Seattle Times, USRowing, the governing body of rowing in the U.S., had received allegations against Groom and even went so far as to compile a report confirming some of the claims. Yet the report was never released to the public, and USRowing continued to hire Groom to train junior athletes.
PCVA is currently investigating the sexual abuse allegations against Conal Groom. If you have any information pertaining to Groom and his history of abuse, please do not hesitate to contact us. This article provides background information about Groom and sexual abuse in sports.
Who is Conal Groom?
Groom is a highly respected figure in the sport of rowing, having competed in the 2000 Summer Olympics as a rower and later on serving as a U.S. national team coach. In the mid-1990s, he was the captain of Georgetown University’s lightweight crew team and was placed in the university’s athletic hall of fame. He also served as director of the boathouse at Seattle’s Pocock Rowing Center. Following an incident at Pocock Rowing Center involving the verbal and physical abuse of a trainee that led to an attempted disciplinary action against Groom, Groom left to work at Lake Union. In 2010, Groom opened his own facility, the Seattle Rowing Center. Later, he left Seattle Rowing Center to help open Mission Rowing.
What are the accusations against Conal Groom?
Groom has had a reputation as a tough coach whose methods have been characterized as outright abuse and allegedly resulted in physical and emotional suffering of his students. Multiple incidents are detailed in the aforementioned Seattle Times article, but highlights include:
- Groom allegedly once grabbed a student by her shoulders, cursed at her and threw her to the ground.
- A student was diagnosed with fractured vertebrae due to the intensity of Groom’s training, resulting in chronic pain.
- Groom allegedly struck a protégé across her face with the back of his hand, causing her to fall, knocking the glasses off of her face and bruising her nose.
- When confronted by a rower about putting him and his teammates in unsafe conditions, Groom allegedly verbally tormented the rower, leading to severe mental anguish and suicidal ideation.
In addition to the many complaints of physical and emotional abuse against Groom, there are also accusations that he sexually groomed at least two female athletes.
What are the details of the sexual grooming accusations against Conal Groom?
According to the Seattle Times, Groom developed a close relationship with a minor female rower, allegedly cooking for her on her 16th birthday and gifting her $800 worth of gear. Groom corresponded with the underage girl via text, calling her “babe” and writing that she was “f—ing model beautiful.” He also told her that he loved her and urged her to send him “modeling shots.”
Groom also offered to buy the underage girl and her friends alcohol, a common tactic among those grooming underage individuals for sex. He also once during a video call encouraged the girl to touch herself. All the while, he would verbally berate the girl at practice.
Eventually, Groom would physically touch the trainee, allegedly going so far as to placing his hand on her upper thigh, positioning her legs between his and attempting to kiss her.
Were authorities informed about Conal Groom’s behavior?
Yes, multiple authoritative bodies were informed about Groom’s alleged physical, verbal and sexual assaults. Shortly after the incident in which Groom attempted to touch the trainee, a report was filed with a child abuse hotline, which led to the opening of an investigation by the local sheriff’s office. The organization SafeSport, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting young athletes from sexual abuse, was also informed, which launched its own investigation.
In addition, USRowing also was informed of Groom’s alleged pattern of abuse against trainees, eventually leading the organization to prohibit Groom from coaching minors under its purview. SafeSport would soon follow with a temporary suspension of Groom coaching without supervision. Despite a police investigation that determined Groom had committed an offense that would require him to register as a sex offender under California law, where the alleged assault took place, the district attorney’s office declined to prosecute.
Ultimately, Groom’s alleged abuse appears to have been allowed to happen due to people in authority looking the other way for far too long. PCVA hopes to enact justice on behalf of the survivors of Groom’s abuse and encourages anyone who has more information to reach out.
How often does sexual assault/abuse in sports occur?
Sexual abuse in sports occurs far more often than one might imagine. The Foundation for Global Sports Development, a non-profit organization focused on delivering and supporting initiatives that promote accessible, fair, and abuse-free sport for youth, reports that between 2-20% of young athletes experience sexual harassment or abuse.
The number of criminal matters and civil lawsuits alleging abuse by coaches and other adults responsible for youth sports programs has been growing. Over the last few years, many cases of coaches accused of sexual misconduct against young athletes have been in the courts, although it is highly likely such violations are underreported.
What are the long-term impacts of sexual abuse?
The effects of sexual abuse on children can last a lifetime. The shame, guilt, fear and anger that come with suffering coach or athletic trainer sexual abuse can have far-reaching repercussions, including long-term psychological, emotional, physical and medical impacts. Often, survivors of childhood sexual abuse develop “psychological armor” to survive the experience, such that it is not unusual for survivors to go decades before beginning to understand the impact of abuse on their lives.
What should I look for in an athlete sexual abuse lawyer?
The short answer is experience, compassion and assertiveness. PCVA’s sexual abuse attorneys have successfully handled athlete sexual abuse cases for years and recovered millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts while helping to ensure the abusive behavior of perpetrators ends. Our attorneys have undergone professional training on how to work with individuals who have been subjected to trauma, to prevent re-traumatization. When you work with us, know that you are working with an advocate who represents you with the utmost empathy and care. And equally important, we are relentless advocates and will not rest until justice on behalf of victims is achieved.
Why don’t victims always come forward right away?
There are many reasons why a survivor of sexual abuse might be reluctant to share their story. Fear of not being believed, shame and confusion are just some of the challenges that many victims face.
Courtney Butler, a soccer player raped by her Blackhills Football Club coach in 2005 when she was 16, refused to tell anyone at the time what had happened. Many years later, she filed a lawsuit against Blackhills, which the organization ultimately settled for $7.5 million. Butler told KIRO News, “I wish when I was younger I would’ve done something about it, but I didn’t believe in myself. I believed my perpetrator. And what I really want people to know, girls to know and guys too, I just want them to understand that there is no shame in this.”
PCVA attorney Darrell Cochran stated about the case, “Our clients and their parents are heroes for having the courage to step forward and take on this establishment when instead of standing by these sexually abused players, the Blackhills Football Club turned on them, denying that anything had happened and destroying documents to hide evidence that would help prove what had happened.”
How PCVA Can Help
Our nationally recognized attorneys have represented thousands of sexual abuse survivors, helping them achieve justice by holding the institutions that failed to protect them accountable and recovering hundreds of millions of dollars in damages on their behalf. Our attorneys have been involved in some of the most complicated and concerning sexual abuse cases in the country and are often consulted by other law firms for guidance and expertise when representing sexual abuse survivors.
If you have information about Conal Groom and these allegations of child abuse, including child sexual abuse, our attorneys are here to listen and help. Please reach out to one of our experienced lawyers by completing our online form or calling us at (253) 948-3199 or (206) 536-2850. All conversations are completely confidential.
Our Case Results
PCVA has handled numerous cases of both athlete and clergy sexual abuse. Here are links to a few examples:
- $9.5M Settlement in Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Involving Wrestling Coach
- $9.15M Settlement for 8 Men Sexually Abused in the Seattle Archdiocese
- $7.5M Settlement in Athlete Sexual Abuse Case Against Black Hills Football Club
- $6M Settlement in Sexual Abuse Case Against United States Bowling Congress
- $4.2M Settlement in Athlete Sexual Abuse Case Against University Place School District