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Key findings from the research

The research findings from this study are drawn from the nine participant accounts selected for the qualitative analysis.[1] Although Truth Project analysis is still underway, ongoing analysis and review of wider Truth Project sessions’ data indicates that child sexual abuse in sports is generally very similar to abuse carried out in other institutional contexts. However, the research findings also indicate there are some particular characteristics of sexual abuse in sports contexts.

In contrast to the cases of child sexual abuse in sport involving high-performing or elite athletes that have garnered media attention in recent years, the experiences shared with the Inquiry by participants through the Truth Project reflect more diversity and more ‘grassroots’ contexts. Although there was clear exploitation and manipulation of victims and survivors by coaches and others involved in sports activities with children in the cases examined in this research, there was little evidence in the nine participants’ accounts of perpetrators specifically exploiting the victims and survivors’ future career prospects or sporting success as a method of grooming or coercion.

  • The enabling factors for abuse to take place in sport were similar to those found in our other thematic reports into abuse in other contexts, and included: perpetrators actively approaching parents outside of the sports context to look after or take children out unsupervised; perpetrators arranging overnight stays with children; and a lack of supervision or oversight of adults working in sports, particularly those operating as leaders or as private coaches or instructors.

My older brother [name] and I had [sport] lessons at [sports venue] and we were part of the [sports club]. [Perpetrator] gave my brother [sport] lessons and he came to the family home to ask permission to take both of us on a trip to [city]. My abuse started on the trip to [city], but my brother was already being molested.

Truth Project participant abused in a sports context

 

  • Physical contact was a more specific enabling factor found in participants’ accounts related to sexual abuse in sports as it is more common in sporting activities and was sometimes used as a pretext by perpetrators to sexually abuse children, for example while swimming or in the foam pit in gymnastics.
  • For most participants, taking part in sport was not a defining or central factor of their lives as children or the lives of their families, but rather it was part of wider activities and hobbies they enjoyed. However, the links between the families of perpetrators and victims and survivors fostered through sporting activities meant it was particularly difficult for some participants to disclose what was happening to them and some perpetrators were more easily able to abuse siblings as well.
  • Sexual abuse by those involved in sports contexts was often perpetrated during overnight stays, trips away and visiting the perpetrator’s home, sometimes, but not always, associated with the activities of the sports club or association. Perpetrators also sometimes used sports-related rewards, such as allowing the child to play in a more senior team, as a method of grooming or coercion.
  • Although some participants experienced psychological and emotional abuse linked to grooming and manipulation alongside the sexual abuse, none of them described experiencing physical violence or other forms of abuse by perpetrators in sports contexts.
  • Most participants did not actively or formally disclose their sexual abuse in sports as a child. A key theme discussed by participants was how much they wanted, or tried, to tell someone about what was happening to them but how difficult this was. Adults failed to respond appropriately to behavioural changes or other indicators of concern in children, even when these were very apparent. Participants who did manage to disclose as children were often dismissed or ignored and subject to victim-blaming responses by adults in a range of institutions.

No, this isn’t over. This is never going to be over. This is never going to be clear and cut and dried just because he got convicted or went to prison. People are going to have – and it’s not just in here – people are going to have those opinions, people are going to say, “Prove it”. People are going to say, “Why didn’t you do x?”, or, “Wasn’t your skirt too short?”, or like that.

Truth Project participant abused in a sports context

 

  • The impacts of experiencing child sexual abuse in sports described by participants are extensive and diverse, with some participants describing the far-reaching impact of their experiences:

So, that first time was – I remember thinking to myself, “Please don’t, please don’t do this because you’re going to – you know, it’s going to ruin the rest of my life, you know.” And it’s that – you can’t describe it – the amount of pain you have from that first instant ...You’re never going to feel pain like that again.

Truth Project participant abused in a sports context

 

Despite their experiences of abuse in sporting contexts, participants did not report subsequently desisting from sport and exercising, as a child or later in their lives.

This report reflects victims and survivors’ experiences of child sexual abuse in sports, presented in the following chapters:

  • Chapter 1 provides background information about the Inquiry, the Truth Project and the research aims.
  • Chapter 2 provides information on the Truth Project dataset, some key characteristics of participants who have shared an experience with the Truth Project about sexual abuse in sports and the sampling framework used for this report.
  • Chapter 3 sets out some key background information relating to child sexual abuse and safeguarding in sport to help situate our research findings.
  • Chapter 4 provides socio-demographic information about victims and survivors who shared their experiences of sexual abuse in sports contexts with the Truth Project. It also provides a description of the family and early life backgrounds of the participants.
  • Chapter 5 details the context and nature of the sexual abuse experienced by those who participated in sports as children.
  • Chapter 6 describes the characteristics and features of the sports contexts and how these facilitated the perpetration of child sexual abuse. It considers what participants shared about what knowledge institutions and the individuals within them had about abuse that was occurring at the time.
  • Chapter 7 presents information about participants’ experiences of disclosing the sexual abuse, both as children and as adults and the impact of the responses upon them. The barriers to disclosure shared by participants are also reported. It also describes participants’ experiences of the police and criminal justice system after disclosing or reporting the abuse.
  • Chapter 8 describes the range of impacts of the sexual abuse shared by participants and what has helped or hindered their recovery.
  • Chapter 9 relays ways participants have found of coping with their experiences of sexual abuse as children. It also describes their experiences of formal and informal support in helping them deal with the consequences and impacts of child sexual abuse in sports.
  • Chapter 10 concludes the report by providing a summary of the key research findings and themes identified in the report. The chapter concludes by detailing the changes participants think are necessary to prevent child sexual abuse in sports in future and to improve responses to, and support for, victims and survivors.

References

Footnotes

  1. Please note that these research findings are not necessarily representative of the wider population.
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