MISCONDUCT IN SPORT
Understanding Child Sexual Abuse Youth sport programs in the United States
have been incredibly successful at enriching the lives of athletes and their communities. However, high levels of participation and engagement also raise the risk of child sexual
abuse. The very activities and
relationships that help athletes develop and progress may also allow offenders to have direct contact with their targets. Since the stakes are so high, it’s critical that every member of the sport community makes addressing child sexual abuse a top priority.
Definition Child sexual abuse is any sexual activity
with a child where consent is not or cannot be given. This category includes all sexual contact between an adult and a child, as well as sexual contact that occurs through force or threat of force. A child is any participant under the age of 18. Sexual contact between an older child and a younger child can also be abusive when a significant disparity in age, development or size makes the younger child incapable of offering consent.
Misconceptions Preconceived notions about child sexual
abuse can be an obstacle to recognizing potential offenders. Here are some common misconceptions: • Abuse doesn’t happen in a team
setting. Offenders can target children in both individual or group settings, and some of the early grooming behavior can occur around other people. • Offenders are males only. Although
the majority of coaches are male, female coaches and administrators can be offenders.
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• Offenders are always adults. Older
children commit one-third of child sexual abuse. • Married individuals aren’t offenders.
Many men and women who commit child sexual abuse are married, often with children.
Characteristics of Sex Abusers Offenders don’t fit any single profile;
they can be any age and come from any background. Because sport offers easy access to potential targets, it’s important to be informed about the common characteristics of sex abusers. In general,
there are two categories of offenders: • Preferential—Individuals in this cate-
gory may be easier to identify because they follow a pattern: They typically pursue children of a specific age group or gender. Many child sex offenders have a spotty work history and create bonds with their targets through photography, pornography, or other materials not associated with a sport
environment. • Situational—The behavior of situational
offenders doesn’t follow a common pattern. Instead, these individuals often develop romantic and sexual relationships with children, who serve as a surrogate for adults. Situational offenders are drawn to younger victims, as they may be easier to manipulate or coerce than adults.
Reporting Responsibilities Coaches, staff members and volunteers
are required to report suspicions of child physical and sexual abuse or any inappropriate behavior of a colleague or coworker. All questions or concerns related to inappropriate, suspicious or suspected grooming behavior should be directed to an
organization’s administrators. If members of the sport community believe that a sexual interaction between a coach and child or among children has occurred, it should be reported immediately.
What to Do if a Child Reports When a child makes allegations of sexual
abuse, responding in an appropriate, constructive way can help achieve the best outcome. When a child takes the difficult step of reporting abuse, it’s critical not to judge the victim. Instead, getting professionals involved early and making counseling resources available can support the healing process. Sport clubs typically have guidelines in place to address all legal and ethical responsibilities.
Effects of Child Sexual Abuse In the short term, victims of child sexual
abuse can experience sudden behavioral changes and withdrawal; they may also avoid the things they used to love. Victims may begin to have problems in school, develop eating disorders and react negatively to any kind of touching. In the years that follow abuse, victims may
battle depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.
It’s common for victims
to blame themselves for what occurred, and the incidence of substance abuse and suicide may increase. We all have a role to play in creating
a healthy setting for sport. SafeSport helps raise awareness about misconduct in sport, promote open dialogue, and provide training and resources. When we work as a team, we can build a game plan to make sport safe for everyone. For more information, visit safesport.org
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