Figure skater Ashley Wagner opened up about why she came forward with her story of sexual assault.
The three-time U.S. national champion, 28, recently revealed that she was sexually assaulted at age 17 by her former teammate, John Coughlin, who died earlier this year.
In an exclusive interview on the 3rd hour of TODAY, Wagner said she shared her story to prevent anything similar happening to the next generation of young skaters. She said felt compelled to speak up when she watched the 13-year-old skater Alysa Liu become this year’s national champion.
“In January, I watched Alysa Liu … coming into this world that I find so extremely flawed, and it just made me sick to my stomach,” Wagner said.
“I feel like it’s my job as someone in this generation of skating to make the sport safer, because I know what it’s like and I know what to expect, and that 13-year-old girl does not deserve to go through the world the way that I did.”
Wagner acknowledged that U.S. Figure Skating has made some important strides in protecting young skaters, including hiring trained chaperones to protect them while traveling and during skating events.
However, she said it’s still not enough.
“It’s a start, but change needs to happen quicker, because every single day that goes by without a massive change being made is another kid who’s getting put into a very uncomfortable situation.”
A lawyer for U.S. Figure skating told TODAY that he feels his organization has a “good history” of tackling the issue of protecting young skaters, but that “doesn’t mean improvements can’t be made."
Before his death, Coughlin, the skater who Wagner says assaulter her when she was a teen, released this statement to USA Today:
“While I wish I could speak freely about the unfounded allegations levied against me … the Safesport notice of allegation itself stated that an allegation in no way constitutes a finding by Safesport or that there is any merit to the allegation.”
Now that she has spoken out about her experiences, Wagner says her goal isn’t to focus on Coughlin, but to urge U.S. Figure Skating to fundamentally change its culture and procedures for keeping skaters safe.
“What I’m really trying to talk about isn’t who did this to me, but the environment that allowed this to happen,” she said.
She added that hopefully, her story will give others the courage to come forward.
“I truly hope so,” she said. “For me, the main reason I decided to come forward with my story was to show people that you can talk about these things.”