Water Polo

ESPN contributor: McHenry family wants charges in alleged water polo assault

May 14, 2015, was, as McHenry West grad Becca Dabrowski termed it in an “Outside the Lines” segment set to air at 8 a.m. Sunday, “probably one of the worst days of my life.”

The ESPN show will go into detail about an incident in McHenry’s playoff boys water polo match against Libertyville in Buffalo Grove, where Dabrowski alleges she was sexually assaulted by an opponent.

“He grabbed under my suit and was touching me,” Dabrowski said in a promo “Outside the Lines” posted on Friday. Dabrowski’s family has not returned phone messages regarding the alleged assault.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar is CEO of Champion Women, an advocacy group for girls and women in sports, and was asked by “Outside the Lines” to offer her legal opinion on the matter. She has seen the show and video of the incident, which she says shows Dabrowski and an opponent jostling before Dabrowski screams out.

Hogshead-Makar, a three-time gold medalist swimmer and civil-rights lawyer, told the Northwest Herald on Saturday the family filed a criminal complaint against the accused but the prosecutor did not file charges. "Outside the Lines" showed an incident report from the Buffalo Grove Police Department involving the matter, which the segment said Dabrowski filed the day after the incident.

"It destroyed me because he was going to get away with it," Dabrowski told "Outside the Lines." "All I wanted was for him to go to counseling. I didn't want this to happen to another woman."

The family then filed a Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, according to Hogshead-Makar, which said they do not want to file a civil lawsuit in the matter.
“They want the guy to have something on record,” Hogshead-Makar said. “She won’t get it from the Department of Education. … They ensure that school policy is good and make sure these things don’t happen again.”

In 2013, when the Northwest Herald profiled Dabrowski, referred to in the "Outside the Lines" piece as Rebecca Dabrowski, competing with the McHenry boys water polo team, she was one of two female athletes on the team. McHenry does not have a girls water polo team.

Hogshead-Makar shared with the Northwest Herald the legal opinion she sent to “Outside the Lines.”

“Just because there was no criminal trial or finding of guilt does not mean that she is without remedies,” her email said. “Civil remedy in court? If what she says happened, there is no ‘assumption of risk’ – falls outside.”

Hogshead-Makar said Dabrowski can file a complaint with U.S.A. Water Polo, where she could receive a hearing that could ban the accused from competing in any U.S.A. Water Polo-sanctioned event.

“The standard is not beyond a reasonable doubt,” as it is in a criminal case, Hogshead-Makar said of a potential hearing. “The standard is preponderance of evidence.”

Hogshead-Makar said fewer than 2 percent of those accused of sexual assault ever receive jail time and “the risk of sexual assault is higher in groups that are all male, like clergy and the military.”

Hogshead-Makar said a prosecutor declining the case, even with video evidence, is not uncommon. But the incident was uncommon.

“In all of my years with swimming and water polo, I’ve never heard of such a thing,” said Hogshead-Makar, who noted the accused said the incident was an accident. “If that could be a potential accident. … If it was, one would expect a bend-over-backward apology. That wasn’t his reaction.

“She wants an apology on the part of the perpetrator. ... He’s dangerous.”

“It was awful,” Dabrowski said in an ESPN promo. “I felt like everyone was staring at me and gonna judge me.”

"He has a mom," Dabrowski said during the segment. "He probably has a sister … how could he do something like that?"

Libertyville athletic department officials did not return a call about the incident, and McHenry athletic director Barry Burmeister, on Friday, said the district was waiting to see the ESPN program before any potential comment. Burmeister and McHenry boys water polo coach Craig Fowles did not immediately return phone messages regarding details of the incident Saturday.

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