Sexual Abuse by Youth Coaches in Pennsylvania
There are laws in Pennsylvania that are intended to protect children from sexual abuse. Despite these laws, abuse has occurred far too many times at the hands of sports coaches and other adults in positions of authority in educational settings.
Often, the understandable reluctance of victims to come forward promptly has hampered both criminal prosecutions and civil cases.
The federal Title IX law prohibits any type of sexual harassment or abuse in an educational setting almost anywhere in the U.S. So, if a sports team is part of a school program, its leaders and coaches are bound by the provisions of Title IX.
If sexual abuse occurs and the victim is aged under 18, a school is required to contact law enforcement. Additionally, if a sexual assault or rape is reported to a teacher, administrator or coach, he/she may be required to notify the police even if the victim is over the age of 18.
The requirement for mandatory reporting of suspected abuse by certain individuals in positions of authority is intended to prevent further abuse from occurring. It can also reduce the number of perpetrators of abuse who go unpunished for their crimes.
UPDATE: HB 963 to extend the statute of limitations on sexual abuse
Unfortunately, it is increasingly clear that predatory coaches have been allowed to remain in positions of authority across the country. Institutions must proactively guard against allowing coaches with a history of abuse from engaging in these horrific acts against children.
In Pennsylvania, the following individuals must follow mandatory reporting requirements if abuse is suspected:
- School administrators
- School nurses
- Social services workers
- Childcare or foster care workers
So, coaches (like the other professionals listed) must report abuse if they witness it or suspect it or they could be held partly responsible for it.
When negligent hiring or supervision results in sexual abuse
Schools and other educational authorities have a duty to carry out thorough background checks on the individuals they hire, including their sports coaches.
This should be especially apparent following high-profile cases of sports coach abuse in the media but some schools still act negligently when hiring coaches or supervising children during sports activities.
Organizations should not only carefully screen applicants during interviews. They must also request written and verbal recommendations from references.
Supervisory negligence is also common in schools and sports settings, with a lack of rules for adequately supervising children. For instance, some organizations fail to implement the two-adult rule favored by many youth organizations to prevent abuse: at least two adults must be present with children at all times.
What are the signs of sexual abuse in young athletes?
Many of the problems with identifying and preventing abuse from occurring stem from a reluctance of the child to speak up about the abuse, usually out of fear or shame.
Sports teams are often built on loyalty and close bonds so the child may feel a misplaced sense of duty to remain quiet. Sometimes, the child is not even aware that he/she is being abused.
It’s also important to bear in mind that many of the signs of sexual abuse in children are similar to the signs of normal “growing up”.
For instance, if a teenager is moody, aggressive, anxious, reluctant to engage, wants to quit the team or suddenly becomes curious about sexual matters, most parents would put this down to growing pains and it wouldn’t necessarily raise red flags.
Many of the physical signs are more obvious — for instance, bruising or bleeding around the genitals — but as a child gets older and dresses himself/herself, a parent is less likely to notice these.
Certain conduct by coaches could also be a sign that grooming or abuse is occurring: examples include encouraging one-on-one training sessions, requesting sleepovers or showering a child with gifts. Parents, teachers and other well-meaning adults must remain vigilant in all aspects of the coach-child relationship.
Failure to act on the signs or suspicions of sexual abuse can mean that abuse by coaches continues unchecked. If patterns of disturbing behavior are regularly noted by parents or teachers, they should be investigated by a parent or other authorized/qualified adult.
If abuse is suspected, it should be immediately reported to the appropriate authority. Alternatively, contact one of our child sexual abuse lawyers in Pennsylvania and we can advise you of your legal rights and options.
What is the statute of limitations for sexual abuse in Pennsylvania?
A statute of limitations imposes a deadline on when a particular type of case can be brought before the courts. Each state has different limits for different types of criminal and civil cases.
In cases of sexual abuse by coaches in Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for civil cases was amended in 2019 and depends on the age of the victim at the time of the abuse:
- A sexual abuse victim who was a minor at the time of the abuse has until his/her 55th birthday to file a claim.
- A young adult victim who was between the ages of 18 and 24 when the abuse occurred can file a claim until the age of 30.
- An adult victim who was 25 years or older when the abuse occurred has two years to file a claim.
The changes in Pennsylvania reflect a growing national awareness of the child sexual abuse problem and concern for the victims. However, the changes are not retroactive so a minor abused before 2019 has until his/her 30th birthday to file a claim.
Can victims of sexual abuse by coaches claim compensation?
Providing the case falls within Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations, victims of abuse can file civil claims against their abusers in the state. If the claim is proven, they can expect to receive compensation.
The circumstances of the case will dictate the type and amount of compensation. A judge will consider the following types of factors:
- The type of abuse
- The duration of abuse
- The age of the victim
- Who was aware of the abuse?
- The effects of the abuse on the victim
Generally speaking, a victim of sexual abuse by a coach could expect to receive a range of economic and non-economic compensation, including the following:
- Medical expenses for physical injuries
- Expenses for psychological therapy
- Expenses for treating anxiety and depression
- Damages for emotional trauma
- Any future losses that may result from the abuse
In addition to these compensatory damages, some victims are awarded punitive damages, which are designed to deter future offenders from committing or being a party to child abuse.
Often, these types of damages are awarded against a school or sports organization that harbored an abusive sports coach and was aware of the abuse but failed to take the necessary steps to protect children.
Each case is different and should be discussed in detail with one of our Pennsylvania child sexual abuse attorneys, who are experienced at handling such cases.
If you or a loved one are a victim of sexual abuse involving a coach or advisor, call an attorney now to schedule a consultation at 866-694-2307. You can also contact us online and a lawyer will respond promptly. We offer free consultations and do not accept a legal fee unless we win your case.
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