Youth sports participants are vulnerable to sexual abuse

Coaches are in a unique position of authority over players — and the number of coaches who abuse that privilege is shocking.

Youth sports play an important role in many students' lives. Sports activities are a way for young people to have fun, stay active, and even get into college. Coaches can have a vast amount of influence over a young player. A good coach imparts skills, values and is often a primary role model. Coaches can spend more one-on-one time with players, have time outside of school hours, and may not be as accountable to third parties as adults in other positions of authority. Unfortunately, because coaches have such a vast influence on players, when a few coaches abuse their position and sexually assault their players, the consequences are numerous and long-lasting.

That is why sexual abuse perpetrated by coaches is so horrific.

The prevalence of such abuse is shocking. The entire nation was appalled by the Penn State scandal involving Jerry Sandusky. A recent article in Outside magazine by Rachel Sturtz detailed the prevalence of sexual abuse in competitive swimming. While it is clear that some coaches and institutions fail to adequately protect children, there is no one sport that puts participants more at risk than others - and there are not always any warning signs for parents as to what coach might pose a risk to players.

No one indicator of risk

While coaches who sexually assault minors often make headlines, there are still some unfortunate myths that permeate the discussion of sexual abuse in sports. Youth participants of both genders are subject to sexual abuse by coaches. In addition, coaches of both genders perpetrate crimes against their players.

For male sports participants who are abused by female coaches, there can be a difficulty overcoming certain stereotypes. While research has pointed to the detrimental effect of sexual assault regardless of the genders involved, male students may face an uphill battle when attempting to speak out about past instances of sexual assault. Female coaches may face fewer consequences as a result of their crimes, according to a recent article published in the Washington Post.

Another myth is that giving previous conflicting testimony means a sexual abuse victim is lying. Yet research has shown that young survivors of sexual abuse can have memory loss, feel conflicted and guilty about what occurred, and may not even realize a previously respected coach just broke the law and behaved as immorally as a person can. Is it any wonder then that it takes some time for the full story to come out?

Legal options against educational institutions and coaches

Holding institutions accountable for a culture that allows sexual abuse to take place is an important part of protecting youth sports participants. Because of the highly competitive atmosphere surrounding many youth sports, institutions may be reluctant to investigate allegations of sexual abuse if it puts a competitive program at risk. But institutions cannot place winning over the health and safety of players. Athletic and educational institutions that do not protect their participants from sexual abuse are liable for the damage that arises for failing in their duty.

Families affected by sexual abuse do have legal options. The experienced attorneys at Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney have represented numerous abuse survivors throughout the years. Sexual abuse survivors should contact Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney to discuss legal options and how best to obtain a measure of justice.

Keywords: Sexual abuse, youth sports, lawsuit