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Latin America

Alleged sexual assault of a minor at Florida soccer club

Players at Weston FC inserted a Sharpie marker pen into a teammate's anus while holding him immobilized, the 14-year-old told Broward County police.
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10 Jun 2019 – 7:28 PM EDT

Weston FC, one of the most recognized youth soccer schools in the United States, has been discreetly handling allegations that a 14-year-old player was sexually assaulted by older teammates, according to a civil law suit and a police report obtained by Univision.

The boy explained to the Broward County Sheriff's Office that the older players forcibly inserted a Sharpie marker into his anus in a hotel room in Medellin, Colombia, where they were participating in a tournament earlier this year, according to the police report. The boy’s name is redacted.

Similar allegations are included in a civil law suit against the club and the six alleged attackers filed in May 29 at Broward Circuit Court by the boy who is identified only by his initials.

The complaint alleges that “there was not staff members monitoring the activities and whereabouts of any of these boys at the time."

Andrew B. Yaffa, attorney for the boy told Univision that his law firm investigation “unfortunately has uncovered that the older kids apparently had a habit in a routine of hazing young children and the club knew or should have known what was going on."

According to the complaint the attackers threatened the boy and his roommates not to tell what they had seen inside the room. "They were forced to watch and observe what happened", said Yaffa.

The incident is being investigated by the US Center for SafeSport, an independent private authority with the ability to impose disciplinary sanctions for misconduct by US athletes, Weston FC and some parents told Univision.

Weston FC assured that all players alleged to have been involved were immediately suspended and the club "promptly made a report to the US Center for SafeSport as required by federal law", Audrey Young, spokeswoman for Weston FC, wrote in response to a Univision questionnaire.

Weston FC statement refers to the incident only as "a recent international trip." without mentioning details of the police report. “Weston FC has a zero tolerance policy for un-sportsman like behavior, harassment, bullying, intimidation, or violence of any kind," added Young.

The delegation of more than 50 players from the club stayed at the Hotel Lagoon located at a semi-rural area near the international airport of Rionegro, near the city of Medellin, according to interviews by Univision in the United States and Colombia.

The police report indicates that the events occurred on January 29, 2019. That day, according to the report, six players, between 18 and 20 years old, took the boy to his room after dragging him by force through the hotel corridor. He was “thrown on to his bed face down and they forcefully removed his pants and underwear’’, the report says. Two of the players “blocked the hotel room door while the others pinned him face down on the bed and forced a sharpie marker into his anus," the minor told police. He tried unsuccessfully to fight them off, it added.

The attack "stopped when they heard someone coming down the hotel hall," the boy told investigators at the Sheriff's Office.

According to the same document, the player reported the attack to coach Marcelo Valdivia, one of the chaperons of the Weston delegation. After the incident Valdivia sent the players involved back to Miami, but didn’t file a complaint with Colombian authorities, the report added. It was not possible to communicate with Valdivia.

The alleged victim's mother declined to talk to Univision about the case. According to the police report, the family doesn’t want to pursue criminal actions against those responsible. Instead, they prefers to take the case to civil court "to avoid excess strain," the report adds.

“Well that's not necessarily true", said Yaffa. "The family was appalled and offended that this was handled in the way that it was. The young men who attacked my client were sent home and the police were not notified in Medellin so that an investigation could be done immediately".

Some of the participants in the trip to Medellin were questioned by SafeSport investigators, according to parents who spoke with Univision.

Asked about the case, Kira Wilson, spokesperson for SafeSport, said that it is the policy of that center "not to discuss specific issues" to protect the integrity of the process and the confidentiality of the people involved.

Wilson added that regardless of the disciplinary investigation, the center is required to report sexual abuse as soon as it finds out to law enforcement authorities. In that case, Wilson added, the center is authorized to use information collected by those authorities and verify the status of the investigation.

The allege victim explained to the police that since the beginning of the trip members of his team "were hazed and verbally assaulted" by the elders. He was subjected to a slap box while they call him gay, he added.

According to the report, the minor was taken for an evaluation to the Sexual Assault Treatment Center (SATC). There he and his father met with a counselor and underwent an examination, the report states. Researcher Elaine Graham, of the Child Protection Research Section (CPIS) of the same county, met with the child and his father in the family home.

Graham offered assistance to the young man and his family after "the traumatic incident," says the report.

According to police officer Corbett who prepared the report along with investigator M Gelske, the incident was not classified as "sexual battery", as it was originally designated, but as "information" since the incident occurred outside the country.

"By not having jurisdiction over the investigation, the case is officially closed", explained Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Keyla Concepción.

The delegation of Weston Futbol Club sent to Medellín was comprised of three teams of different ages and categories under the coordination of Víctor Pastora, technical director of the club.

Pastora did not respond to phone calls or emails from Univision.

Among other question, Univision asked Weston FC about the actions the club had taken in relation to Pastora. The question was not answered. The club explained they cannot comment further because the club is required “to respect the confidentiality of the SafeSport investigation’’.

During the visit to Medellin, between January 26 and February 3, Weston FC teams faced local teams. Judging by the date of the report, February 4, the boy statement was taken by the police one day after the end of the trip. A source from the hotel said some of the players were checked out of the hotel one or two days before the end of the original stay.

A former employee of the same hotel who asked not to be identified explained that on the night of the events described in the judicial report, some of the players "were out of control" and caused minor damage to the facilities.

Univision sent a questionnaire about the incident to Diego Pineda Courtney, general manager of the hotel, who responded that the information requested is private.

"We are not authorized by law to provide information on guests staying at our facilities unless there is an order from a competent authority", said Pineda.

Founded in 1998, Weston FC, Inc. is a non-profit institution certified by the United States Soccer Federation. It prides of being one of the "largest and most respected competitive clubs in the nation", according to its website.

It has about 1,100 players ranging in ages from 7 to 19 who participate in approximately 70 teams that play nationally and internationally.

The incident is an open secret among members of the club. Some details have been revealed in anonymous social network chats. The SafeSports investigations regularly take 90 days, according to the spokesperson of the institution.

Weston FC told Univision that it has hired Holland & Knight to carry out an independent review of the club's practices and policies in relation to the safety and welfare of its members.

Young, the spokeswoman for Weston FC, said that the club "has absolutely no knowledge of any past hazing or sexual misconduct". They will continue to support the alleged victim and his family, she add "but will vigorously defend the unwarranted action against the Club".

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