Start to Talk
To stop sexual abuse in sport, we must understand the factors that increase children’s vulnerability. Imbalanced power relations, authoritarian leadership and rewards structures create relationships based on fear and dependence and hence vulnerability to the abuse of power. 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 to several forms of sexual violence. And of course, there is the scandal avoidance by organisations and individuals who prefer to hide the abuse, thus sacrificing the victim and giving the abuser a licence to harm.
Equally important, we should understand the reasons why children cannot talk. Fear, shame and guilt are paralysing feelings. Very young children may not recognise the abuse, while teenagers may believe they are in a “relationship”. Love for the sport they practise, peer pressure, taboos around sexuality and admiration for their coach, trap children in a very painful silence. If nothing is done about it, abusers can keep preying on children for years, sometimes resulting in hundreds of victims.
Sport is great for children. It brings joy and develops healthy habits. It boosts self-esteem and creates a sense of belonging. Through sport, children absorb key values and learn important life skills. We must make sure that this is the case for ALL children.