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Young athletes increasingly coming forward about sexual abuse

One hundred former Ohio State students have revealed that a team doctor sexually abused them, according to an internal Ohio State investigation released on Friday, July 20. This was only days after former members of the USA and Michigan State University Gymnastics team received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYs, the annual sports awards ceremony. The former high-profile gymnasts received the award for publicly sharing their stories about suffering sexual abuse from Larry Nassar, the MSU doctor now serving life in prison.

The investigation revealed that between 1979 and 1997, Richard Strauss, the now-deceased former team physician at Ohio State, groped patients, conducted unnecessary genital exams and otherwise engaged in sexual misconduct with male students under his care. He was responsible for the care of student-athletes participating in 14 different sports.

The second devastating and prominent revelation involving a major athletic and academic institution in as many years begs the question: how common is sexual abuse in athletics?

Statistics on sexual abuse in sports hard to determine

Unfortunately, the answer is not clear. In the past, many mental health professionals believed sexual abuse to be quite rare. However, as more victims come forward, it appears that sexual abuse has been vastly underreported for decades.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four girls and one in six boys suffer sexual abuse before the age of 18. This statistic doesn't include college athletes who are vulnerable to abuse at the hands of coaches and team doctors.

Why sports?

Serial sex offenders may target youth activities, including religious activities, sports and schools. Serial offenders can then manipulate and abuse their positions of trust and authority to take advantage of those in their care.

Any time someone vulnerable is alone with a predator, there is the risk for abuse to occur.

Institutional accountability

Abuse victims often suffer in silence. And the suffering is pronounced. Psychologists, psychiatrists and other doctors recommend that anyone who has suffered abuse get help as soon as possible after the incident or incidents occur.

It is also important that people in a position to know and stop the behavior take appropriate action. Several coaches have been questioned about whether they knew of the sexual abuse occurring to their players.

The current investigation, conducted by a third party, may reveal more information. In the meanwhile, it is important that parents, coaches and the institutions involved take any alleged instance of abuse seriously.

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