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The vulnerability of children on sports teams

Team sports are an important part of childhood and adolescence. Sports teach children healthy exercise habits, teamwork and confidence. Unfortunately, team sports can put young children and teens at risk for sexual abuse.

Coaches are intended to be leaders, teaching players about the sport and life lessons. In most cases, coaches are trustworthy adults who enjoy working with children. In some cases, coaches take advantage of their power and sexually abuse players. How can you protect your child as they enjoy their sport?

Why do sports teams place children at a higher risk for abuse?

Coaches are with their teams for long stretches on time. In some cases, coaches are with players without parent supervision. Coaches are in positions of authority, and players are conditioned to do what coaches tell them. This imbalance in power can weaken a child’s ability to challenge questionable comments or behavior.

Additionally, most players naturally trust their coaches. Studies show that most sexual abusers gain the trust of both the child and their parents before they abuse them. This breach of trust confuses victims, and may make them second guess the inappropriate nature of a coach’s abuse.

You may assume that so few coaches engage in abusive behavior that you do not have to worry about your child’s safety. It is true that most coaches have good intentions. However, one bad coach can impact a number of young lives. One researcher estimated that the average abusive coach molests 120 children before they are caught.

What can you do to keep your child safe?

  1. Provide supervision. Attend sports practices and games. Coaches are less likely to abuse players if parents are watching their actions.
  2. Listen to your child. Ask your child about their practice, game, teammates and coaches. Pay heightened attention if they say anything that sounds unusual. Do not brush off their concerns or questions.
  3. Get to know the coach. Spend time talking with your child’s coach and get to know them personally. If something seems off, have your child switch teams immediately.
  4. Discuss proper behavior. Make sure that your child understands proper physical and verbal boundaries. They should understand what kinds of touching are off limits, and be able to recognize inappropriate discussions. Tell them to report all questionable interactions to you immediately.

If you notice signs of sexual abuse, report it immediately. If your child’s coach is employed by a school, park or any other government-run organization, you have a limited window to file a lawsuit. In most cases, you have 6 months from the time of the incident to take action. If you have already passed this time period, still report the incident. Your testimony can protect other children from potential abuse. Contact an attorney who can represent your interests. They can help you gain the justice and compensation that you deserve.

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