Research shows that sexual abuse happens in all sports and at all levels. From beginning youth sports programs, across school, community and university settings, even to Olympic elite athletes. The sporting culture, with its larger-than-life coaches, fierce competition, the need for funding, and a "win at all costs" philosophy, creates an environment that contributes to the sexual exploitation of athletes.
Sexual abuse is a physical act and a psychological experience. As a physical act, sexual abuse involves touching and non-touching behaviors. This can be done in coercive or seductive ways. As a psychological experience, the abuse of power and authority by the predator renders the young athlete powerless. First, a cycle of dependency is created between the predator and the child, involving special attention and friendship. Predators look to build a bond of loyalty, and then move to isolate and control the athlete. This specialness descends into sexual attention, where intimidation, guilt, secrecy and further dependency are manipulated. Sometimes the abuse occurs with threats and violence. Sometimes with deception or even with misdirected love. By the time the child wants to - or wishes - to disclose the nature of the sexual trauma, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness secures their silence.
Statistics: Members of an athlete's sports community in positions of power and authority are often identified as sexual abuse predators. This includes coaches, trainers, athletic directors, physical therapists, bus drivers, chaperones, etc. Here are things to keep in mind:
Tips for Parents:
Editorial Note: Dr. Deborah Serani is the author of Living with Depression" by The Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group.