Abuse Victim of Former Ski Coach Details Her Sexual Assault
When Amélie-Frédérique Gagnon was a competitive teenage skier in the 1990s she had dreams of the slopes and of someday winning an olympic medal.
Now she is publicly speaking about sexual abuse that began in those years by her former ski coach Bertrand Charest.
Charest is now in jail, convicted of 37 charges against nine athletes, after Gagnon and 11 other women came forward with accusations of sexual abuse. Four women including Gagnon fought to have a publication ban lifted so that they could tell the public about their experiences and perhaps help current and future young athletes and their families.
Gagnon wants to warn unsuspecting parents. She told her story in an interview with CBC.
“I don’t think people could imagine it could go that far. Be careful and pay attention to your children, and signs…”
Charest’s attention to Gagnon went too far when Gagnon was 14. Her coach, Charest, arranged for the competitive skier to travel to Europe for a race. But when they arrived he had something to say to her.
“He said, ‘Amfred, I think I like you more than a racer,’” Gagnon recalled in the interview. “And I just remember having this feeling inside of me that was so, so strange, and I felt so weird and so shocked and I really didn’t know what to think of it.”
“I was 14. I was 14 years old and he was 25 years old.”
He kissed her on that trip and tried to make time to be alone with the minor, CBC reported. When they returned to Quebec, he started spending time at her house in the window between when she returned from her classes and her parents were still at work.
As time passed, Gagnon became mired in an increasingly harmful situation with her coach.
“I was probably 15 and I had my first complete sexual relation with him. And I was ashamed. I knew it was wrong. And just to keep the secret was killing me. I felt so bad inside of me that I stopped eating and I became anorexic. It was really hard, I feel like I wanted to take away everything that was inside of me.”
Then he convinced her to move in with him and his mother.
“Sometimes I was strong enough to tell him no. And then it would be a fight, and the next day I would not get any coaching, and not talk for a couple of days. For me it was easier to just let him.”
She moved back home but began feeling nauseous. She then found out she was pregnant. When Charest discovered she was pregnant he told her that he made some arrangements.
“He had arranged an abortion for me,” said Gagnon.
“I didn’t know what to do, and I wanted to speak with someone so bad. It was a secret.”
Gagnon described the manipulation that made her feel that she couldn’t tell her family.
“It was a secret and he told me, not just for that event but for the whole relationship, ‘if you say that to someone I’m going to prison.’”
Gagnon says she lived with private shame and humiliation for years. Then a few years ago, one of the other young athletes Charest abused went to police about what happened to her when she was 12.
Then, police got in contact with Gagnon.
Charest was convicted in June 2017 and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Gagnon is finding some relief in telling her story.
“Just telling it and saying, ‘you know what? It was not my fault. It happened.’ And then just the fact that I’m sharing it on national TV, I think it takes some shame away.”
To any young people in a similar situation Gagnon has some words.
“First of all, it’s not your fault. Speak with someone that you trust. And that person will help you with the rest.”
Charest has denied the accusations and is appealing some of the charges.
With files from CBC