Bridie Farrell was a 15-year-old Olympic hopeful when it started — the sexual relationship with a four-time Olympian speedskater more than twice her age, Andy Gabel. For more than seven months, Gabel, then 33, abused Farrell. In cars. In hotel rooms. In bedrooms. Even at an Olympic training center, according to The Washington Post.
It would take 16 years for Farrell to speak up. And when she did, during a 2013 radio interview, she was floored to learn that many of the stakeholders in the sport she loved knew about previous complaints of sexual abuse against Gabel, but failed to protect girls like Farrell. After Farrell shared her story, Gabel resigned from the International Skating Union and U.S. Speedskating (USS). Soon after that, two-time Olympian Nikki Myer came forward, too, publicly accusing Gabel of raping her when she was 15. Gabel’s reply: “Any relationship I had was consensual.”
Once Farrell started speaking about the abuse, she never stopped. In 2019, she helped advocate for a state law that allowed victims of sexual abuse to file civil claims even after the statute of limitations expired. Last month, she used that law as leverage in a case she filed in New York State Supreme Court against the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, U.S. Speedskating, and Gabel. She said the two decades that have passed have given her more clarity and more strength to speak out not just in her own defense, but to protect other young athletes from falling victim to sexual predators like Gabel.
“I mean, when it was happening, I was 15, and the farther away from 15 that I get, the more perspective I have,” she told The Washington Post. “I mean, I couldn’t drive. I’d have to ask permission to go to the movies. I had a neighborhood lawn-mowing business. I was a kid. So, the notion of coming forward against the very people and organizations that held the keys to my dream, I mean, it just doesn’t make sense why anyone would do that. And to me, it seems that the same system is still in place.”
Gabel didn’t comment for The Washington Post story, but he did apologize in 2013, after Farrell first came forward, saying in a statement to the Chicago Tribune that he “displayed poor judgment in a brief, inappropriate relationship with a female teammate. It did not include sex, however I know what happened was wrong, and I make no excuses for my behavior.”
Farrell’s complaint claims U.S. Speedskating was aware of Gabel’s inappropriate conduct toward young female athletes, but turned “a blind eye” toward Gabel “placing their desire for Olympic success before their obligation to protect” Farrell and other young athletes. Instead, the organization installed him as a USS athlete representative, one of the organization’s members who fielded reports of sexual molestation and abuse within the organization.
Farrell’s abuse has scarred her. She has dealt with eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. But she is proving she is a fighter. She fought for legislation in New York and Arizona to allow victims of sexual abuse to sue years after statues of limitations had expired. She also founded a nonprofit, America Loves Kids, focused on ending child sexual abuse.
“The idea that we’ve just started speaking up isn’t true,” she said to Senate Commerce committee members during a hearing about Olympic abuse. “We’ve been yelling for years, but no one’s been listening.”
Sexual assault attorney
Sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape and sex trafficking are catastrophic acts that wound those who are victimized for a lifetime. This conduct is so atrocious that survivors not only have to overcome physical injuries, they are also left to suffer from substantial psychological and emotional injuries. Survivors often need to seek therapy to overcome the traumatic experience associated with sexual abuse and routinely incur lost wages or loss support associated with their terrible ordeal. The perpetrators of this type of conduct can be arrested and prosecuted with criminal charges; however, criminal proceedings do not award financial damages to victims. Fortunately, in many instances, Survivors may also be able to file civil claims to recover significant financial compensation as damages.