Sexual abuse victimizes thousands of people every year, and unfortunately, it is also rampant in sports. Sexual abuse in sports occurs at every level, from athletes in youth sports leagues to those in professional and Olympic sports. Although participation in sports has many benefits, the environment of powerful coaches, high levels of competition, the constant need for fundraising, and a “win-or-die” mentality creates an atmosphere that is perfect for sexual exploitation.
Although sexual abuse is more often a physical act, there can also be a psychological component. Sexual abuse involves touching and non-touching behaviors. Abusers can pressure, threaten, coerce, or seduce their victims in a variety of ways. In sports specifically, there is often an abuse of power occurring with younger athletes being manipulated by older athletes or coaches. These assailants are predators just like any other sexual abuser, and often start the cycle by forming a unique friendship with the victim. This might include providing extra or special attention or giving special privileges. After this, the victim often feels a sense of loyalty towards the abuser, which helps the abuser to isolate and control the victim. Eventually the sexual attention begins, which might start slow at first and build up to more extreme acts later. Predators prey on the victim’s emotions and can use intimidation, secrecy, shame, and guilt to lure them in. Other times, the assailant uses threats or violence, deception, or false proclamations of love to get what they want. Often, by the time the child wants to speak out about the sexual trauma, they will already feel helpless and, therefore, remain quiet.
Although sexual abuse can certainly be committed by anyone, including peers, it is often those in positions of power, such as coaches, trainers, chaperones, physical therapists, and bus drivers, who are the predators. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- The risk for sexual abuse increases without firm structures in place, such as when teams have loose guidelines, unsupervised or unstructured practices, and vulnerable athletes, such as younger and less mature athletes.
- The locker room, out of town trips, social events (especially those involving alcohol), the playing field, the car or home of the coach, initiation events, and celebrations are all high-risk situations for abuse.
- The potential for psychological harm from sexual abuse increases when there are passive attitudes, denial, silence, or non-intervention by people in power.
- The same can be said for bystanders – doing nothing sends a message to athletes that their abusers are not doing anything wrong, and that sexual abuse is legal and okay. This gives them even less power to speak out.
There are many consequences for victims of sexual abuse in sports. Some victims will end up suffering from severe depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or actions, self-harm behaviors, or psychosomatic illnesses. There are also strong and intense emotions to work through, the potential for low self-esteem, and the possibility of further relationships being damaged or even impossible. Many victims of sexual abuse blame themselves, which increases the risk for negative, long-term effects.
Although some victims never speak out, many do. While ideally their accusations would be believed and supported by authority figures, oftentimes this is not the case. It is not unusual for sexual abuse victims to be called liars, kicked out of their sports, and rejected. This is just further victimization and isolation.
Many kids will act out due to sexual abuse with behaviors such as direct or indirect statements and highly sexualized behavior (excessive masturbation or promiscuity). However, there are many victims who do not display such red flags and, instead, suffer silently.
It is very important to support victims of sexual abuse and provide the resources they need to recover. Without this support, the effects of sexual abuse can last a lifetime and can even have an impact on victims’ future spouses and children.
If you are a victim of sexual abuse perpetrated by someone of authority in your own team, the attorneys at Wilshire Law Firm can ensure you receive all of the medical and psychological treatment you required to resume a normal life again with no out-of-pocket costs to you. If you lack health insurance or funds to pay for treatment, we can arrange financial assistance or an interim loan to pay for treatment. Only once the settlement has been paid will any medical bills or loan payments become due and deducted from the cash compensation.