Sexual Abuse In Sports & Youth Organizations
Sexual predators use sports leagues, organizations, and activities to sexually abuse children due to the level of access and opportunity these organizations give them.
Several national scandals have shown how vulnerable children are to abuse by a trusted sports coach or advisor, from former disgraced Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky to USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who abused countless children under the guise of training, guiding and treatment or the Boy Scouts of America who have sexual abuse claims dating back as far as 1979 and as recent as 2006. There were over 92,000 sexual abuse claims filed against the Boy Scouts of America.
The U.S. Center for SafeSport in 2019 found that approximately 8% of youth athletes participating in Olympic and amateur sports in the United States reported experiencing some form of sexual abuse or misconduct. This survey involved over 21,000 respondents, making it one of the largest studies on this topic.
While sports should be a place for our young people to grow, thrive and create connections to the community, studies indicate 40% to 50% of athletes have experienced anything from mild harassment to severe abuse.
It is important to note that the prevalence of sexual abuse can vary across sports, age groups, and regions. Certain sports that involve close physical contact or situations where adults have unsupervised access to children may pose higher risks. Additionally, factors such as power imbalances, inadequate safeguarding policies, and a culture of silence can contribute to the perpetration and concealment of sexual abuse.
We are an educated, experienced, and trauma-informed team of attorneys with years of experience handling complex cases involving the full cost of emotional and physical recovery from the damages of sexual assault.
Where Does Sexual Abuse Happen Within Youth Sports and Recreational Leagues?
- Swim clubs
- Gymnastics clubs
- Dance studios
- Little league sports
- High school sports leagues
- Community Recreational and Club Teams
- Boy scouts
- Big Brothers Big Sisters
- Equestrian Clubs and Other Competitions
- Sports Camps and other overnight or day camps
Sadly, we have seen mentors, coaches, trainers, doctors and others in positions of authority abuse the trust placed in them. It is vital that children are protected from abusers, and that starts with holding these organizations accountable for their failure to protect children in their care.
Signs of Sexual Abuse in Youth Serving Organizations
While signs and symptoms of abuse vary from person to person there are some key indicators to look out for in the area of sports and youth service organizations. These include but are not limited to:
- Missing Practices
- No Longer Wanting to Attend
- Sudden Dislike of a Particular Coach, Mentor, etc.
- Fear of Being Alone in These Environments
- Changes in Appetite, Behaviour, and Personality
- Substance Use
- Disordered Eating or Negative Body Image
- HyperSexualized Activity or Talk
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases
- Hiding Things or Keeping Secrets
- Gifts or Favors Received
- Heightened Interest in Your Child
- Extra Practice, Attention, etc. Your Child is Receiving
- Frequent Contact with Child
Please see our Parents/Survivors Resource Guide for comprehensive tools for what to look for, how to respond, and more.
Preventing Sexual Abuse in Sports & Youth Serving Organizations
The best way to prevent sexual abuse from impacting your family and loved ones is first to understand the prevalence of sexual abuse in sports and youth-serving organizations and then talk about it with your loved ones. This can be done in a manner that does not create fear but rather empowers the family to protect itself and others from this type of harm. Just like we teach children to look both ways before crossing a street and to always wear a seatbelt, we must incorporate knowledge of and tools to prevent sexual abuse as it is far more prevalent that getting into a car accident. Much of this awareness begins with basic conversations around sexuality which can be difficult for many parents, however, remaining silent or avoiding these conversations just opens the door for others to misinform, manipulate or confuse your child. If you do not have these conversations early and often, your child will not trust that you are a person they can come to for guidance. You must equip your child with information about grooming techniques and things to look out for so they feel more secure and confident in their own understanding and ability to speak up when behaviors may cross boundaries. Talk to your child in age-appropriate ways about these forms of abuse, teach them about their bodies, teach them about consent, and how to recognize the signs that someone may be attempting to gain their trust for the wrong reasons. Talk about these things often, and normalize the discussion so that if the child has questions and encounters grooming, they are more likely to recognize it and report it immediately. Make sure you have parental controls on all their accessible devices so you limit what they can be exposed to and filter out adult sites and spaces online. Try to never shame, blame, or guilt your child into ever thinking there is anything they could have done or should do to avoid abuse. The blame always lies with the abuser-period. Create safe spaces for your child to learn about boundaries and how to verbalize them.
Encourage your child to report any suspected signs of abuse immediately whether they are the target or their peers are.
How To Emotionally Support Child Sex Abuse Victims
When a child bravely discloses sexual abuse, as a parent or caregiver, you are thrown into a tornado of emotions. It is overwhelming and emotional to hear that someone you care about, especially a child, may have been harmed in this way. You may have your emotional response without even realizing it. If you have past trauma in any way, it can very easily trigger your emotional response from your past. Be mindful of this. First thing, breathe deeply in and out a few times to help center yourself before you speak or react. Try to stay as calm as possible, children take their cues from adults. If you are immediately angered or show signs of extreme emotional duress, the child will feel that and could very well shut down out of fear of hurting you or making you mad. The words and actions that follow a child’s disclosure can make a world of difference in their overall healing. Our Parents/Survivors Guide offers excellent resources to help walk you through how to respond to your loved one.
What Can I Do If I Suspect Abuse in Sports & Youth Organizations?
Talk with your loved one, let them know they are not alone and that what happened to them is not their fault. Try to get as much information as you possibly can, remove your loved one from the environment, document as much as you can, and report the abuse immediately to your local law enforcement and any other entity including the organization and any federal, state, or local regulatory bodies.
How do I Know If I Have a Case?
At Andreozzi + Foote, we have spent decades thoroughly researching and actively engaging state laws, regulations, rules, policies, and procedures across the country to help you and your family determine if you have a case against the perpetrator or organization. Statutes of limitations and immunity clauses can also serve as a barrier to holding institutions accountable and only trained and experienced attorneys understand the unique nuances of these laws and have to craft creative filings to help you and your family get the desired result you are seeking.
If you or someone you know has suffered sexual abuse or assault, please don’t stay silent. Andreozzi + Foote can help you fight back and ensure the perpetrators pay for their crimes. Call us at 866-311-8640 or reach us online for a free and confidential assessment of your case.