Sexual abuse survivor Stevie Gould empowered by suing USTA
Sexual predator Normandie Burgos, a once well-respected Northern California tennis coach, is serving a 255-year prison sentence after being found guilty in May 2020 of 60 counts of child molestation.
Some of the charges involved Stevie Gould, who was a 13- year-old tennis player when Burgos began abusing him. The abuse went on for two years.
Stevie is largely responsible for putting Burgos in prison: he secretly recorded the tennis coach admitting to having sex with a child and turned the recording over to police.
Then, Stevie went one step further and filed a civil sexual abuse lawsuit against the United State Tennis Association for allowing Burgos to continue coaching long after the allegations of abuse first surfaced in 2001.
The Burgos Tennis Foundation was a USTA affiliate and Stevie’s lawsuit was settled in 2021.
Stevie described the experience as a “long, arduous process” that was also a “really honorable process.”
“There's a lot of people who are focused on monetary gain and I didn't feel that with attorney Bob Allard,” Stevie said. “I felt like their priority, in addition to vindicating me, was to take care of me and to get justice for what was right.”
At first, Stevie was skeptical about filing a civil suit but that feeling disappeared as he worked hand-in-hand with Mr. Allard and victim advocate Jancy Thompson.
“When I met Bob for the first time here in San Francisco, I was extremely hesitant. And then I started actually talking to him and listening to what he had to say. And there's a genuine aspect to Bob and to Jancy and to the entire law firm that resonated with me,” Stevie said. “It's a gut feeling. What can't be understated is how important that is when you're dealing with something so sensitive and so meaningful to you, and to the person who's working with you.”
The lawsuit proved to be a true learning experience
“I learned many things about myself, which I didn't know before. And that's the most important part of the process – what you learn about who you are, what you stand for and what you want in this world,” he said. “It empowered me to feel like I can speak up even more than I already have to tell my story in the best way that I can, and to know that I can speak to people in all different situations in life and know that I have people behind me, people supporting me that really know how to work and know how to get things right.”
Stevie learned, too, that the sexual abuse he endured will always be a part of his life.
“It's not something that's ever finished, ended, accomplished. It's not something you can defeat, shrug it off and move forward. It's always going to be a part of you,” Stevie said. “And that's what I would tell any survivor of sexual abuse that, for better or worse, it is a part of who you are. And the more you can learn to accept it as a part of who you are, and work to make things better to turn such a horrible experience into something that you can use to empower others and empower yourself, learn that you have gained a lot of strength, a lot of integrity through being abused and you understand how to have empathy for others. And instead of trying to escape it, embrace it and use it for the best way you can.”
Stevie believes if you talk about your abuse you create “new opportunities in life that you may not have had before. And that's something that's really key to understand.”
Another important lesson he learned is that “sexual abuse does not stop with the victim. I have seen it traumatize my family, my friends, people that I'm not very close to were really, really saddened and affected by this process.”
The lawsuit helped his family to help him
“I know that from my experience and from my family's experience that they learned a lot about what I went through that they didn't know before,” he said. “They learned about what happened and they learned about what I was going through day-to-day. They learned how to fight for me instead of giving me pity. And that was something that I couldn't be more appreciative of – they were able to stand by me instead of feeling like they had to stand for me.”
Perhaps one of the biggest lessons Stevie learned is that he’s just as vulnerable as the next guy. But knowing and believing are sometimes hard to reconcile.
“Everyone is capable of being taken advantage of and it's not your fault, no matter how much you might think it is,” he said. “That’s something that I will say but will struggle for years and years and years to believe. But doing this is a way to take control back, it's a way to take your power back.”
Stevie will continue to talk publicly abuse his abuse because he wants to encourage other survivors to come forward. “It just takes one and one leads to one more. We can start a movement – no more sucking it up, taking it and not speaking up. We need to change that.”