Roxana Maracineanu, Minister of Sports of France, and Adrien Taquet, French Secretary of State on Child Protection, have announced today the launch of the Council of Europe’s campaign “Start to Talk” in France.
“Start to Talk” is a Council of Europe campaign against the abuse of children in sports. Research shows that sexual violence affects around 1 in 5 children in Europe and that about 80% of abusers are within the child’s circle of trust, including in the family, schools and associations.
Sports, with its imbalanced power relations, authoritarian leadership and rewards structures, can, on the one hand, foster the team spirit, as well as the ability to overcome difficulties and cope with failures. At the same time, it can create relationships based on fear and dependence and hence render children vulnerable to the abuse of power, including sexual abuse. The loss of “natural barriers” because of the physical contact required and the sharing of showers, changing rooms and confined spaces with adults also expose children. And of course, there is potential scandal avoidance by organisations and individuals who prefer to hide the abuse, thus giving the abuser a licence to continue harming.
Children have difficulties talking about abuse: they are paralysed by fear, shame and guilt; they love the sport they practice and admire their coach; are afraid of peer pressure of losing friends. Besides, very young children may not recognise the abuse, while teenagers may believe they are in a “relationship”.
The “Start to Talk” campaign aims at public authorities and all the actors in the sports movement - sports clubs, associations and federations, as well as athletes and coaches. It pledges them to take concrete measures to prevent abuse and respond to it. It is about adults breaking the silence and lending children a voice.
Under the campaign, the Council of Europe proposes to its member States video clips, online and print materials, as well as offering experienced trainers and speakers on the theme for public events.
The launch of the “Start to Talk” campaign in France was part of the international conference on children’s rights held in the framework of the French Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe “Redefining Power: strengthening the rights of the child as the key to a future-proof Europe”.