The country should have learned by now that victims of sexual assault need to be believed, and everyone affected should have the right to know if their child has been in an environment where abuse occurred.
No doubt, parents, relatives and friends of young people who played for the Eastern Panhandle Inter-County Soccer Club or the Shepherd University women’s soccer team are just now finding out why coach Tristan Longnecker left both programs in November of last year.
A report earlier this week from The Dallas Morning News detailed how Longnecker allegedly sexually assaulted a female soccer player for years while Longnecker was coaching in Texas. He relocated to West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle when that player, Laura Anton, began attending college and playing soccer for George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia.
Until The Dallas Morning News story broke, maybe those on the inside had some information, but it’s doubtful many knew that it was Anton’s call to Shepherd and the EPIC youth team in October that prompted Longnecker to resign from both organizations. Officials said they didn’t and couldn’t inform parents about the issue for legal reasons, which became moot once the story came out.
Maybe that’s true, but it has got to be tough for relatives and parents to know their child was under the supervision of Longnecker, now that they know his alleged past. If they’re furious with the university or the youth program for not informing them of what reportedly was happening, they have every right.
So far, it’s unknown if Longnecker engaged in any inappropriate or illegal behavior while in West Virginia.
Obvious reasons aside, there are two other aspects to this whole story that are frightening. The first is that Longnecker, who was an assistant coach and recruiter at Shepherd, was able to be employed at the university because it didn’t conduct a background check. That’s one simple, systematic way to eliminate a problem like this before it even starts. Shepherd University says it now does background checks on “anyone involved in coaching in any way.” That’s good, but the policy wasn’t enacted until 2016, after Longnecker had already joined the staff.
Another disturbing element here is Longnecker was able to relocate and start a new life without anyone knowing about his alleged past. If not for Anton, he may well have succeeded.
After contacting officials with the soccer programs in West Virginia, Anton stayed involved, checking to see if parents were informed and when information on Longnecker would come out publicly.
“Please know that my inquiries regarding your club’s statements stem from my intention to prevent [Longnecker] from slithering off and recreating himself somewhere else like he did after Dallas,” she wrote in an email to the board president of the EPIC youth soccer club.
That really says it all. Predators slither. They groom. They deny. They create an identity that invites trust and, sometimes, parents don’t believe even their own children when they’re told what the predator has been doing. It’s past time to believe the victims of sexual assault. It’s also past time parents are clued in when something like that has happened.
The longer people are in the dark, the longer something like that is allowed to persist.