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Athlete Sexual Abuse

Athlete sexual abuse is a real problem. Today, more than 35 million children in the U.S. under the age of 16 play organized sports, coached or supervised by more than a million adults, many of whom are volunteers who do not undergo background checks. No matter the sport, when children participate, families entrust coaches and others with their child’s physical and mental well-being. If a coach violates that trust by sexually abusing a child, they should be brought to justice. If a school or athletic program fails to provide proper oversight or actively shields a coach from investigation, they too should be held accountable.

What is athlete sexual abuse?

Athlete sexual abuse often occurs when an adult who is in charge of supervising a child athlete, whether as a coach, an athletic trainer or another member of the team staff, engages in grooming behaviors, sexualized touching or sex with a minor.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines child sexual abuse as the “involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society.” The perpetrator can be “an adult . . . who, by his/her age or development, is in a relationship of responsibility, trust, or power toward the victim.”

How often does sexual abuse in sports occur?

The Foundation for Global Sports Development, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the benefits of abuse-free sport for youth, reports that sexual abuse in sports occurs far more often than one might imagine. Conservative estimates are that between 2% to 20% of childhood athletes experience sexual harassment or abuse.

The number of criminal matters and civil lawsuits alleging abuse by coaches and other adults responsible for youth sports programs has been growing. Over the last few years, many high-profile and less notorious cases of coaches accused of sexual misconduct against young athletes have been in the courts, although it is likely such violations are underreported.

What are signs that athlete sexual abuse may be occurring?

Indicators of possible abuse in sports include (but are not limited to) missing practices, illness, loss of interest, withdrawal and a child performing significantly below his/her abilities. Other signs in youth athletes may include:

  • Increasing isolation
  • Fear of being alone
  • Aggression and/or impulsiveness
  • Substance abuse
  • Depression and PTSD
  • Personality disorders, anxiety disorders, and even psychosis

While there may be other causes behind some signs of abuse, it is important to trust your gut. Addressing sexual abuse can be painful, but the sooner you act, the better off the child will be.

Too often, parents and communities think “not in our school’s athletic program; not in this league; or not on a team in this neighborhood.” When they do so, they enable the protection of sexual predators and make the job of identifying predators and stopping their behavior more difficult. If the signs of possible abuse are there, dismissing the symptoms or delaying further investigation can result in additional harm.

How does sexual abuse in sports occur?

Sexual abuse in sports occurs for a wide range of reasons and in a variety of situations.

To begin with, coaches and others in charge of youth athletics are often not licensed educators or others who have been vetted by virtue of the positions they hold. In other words, they may be either volunteers or employees of organizations who don’t perform background checks.

Additionally, abusers have unfettered access to potential victims, not only in practices and local games that are in public, visible places, but also at away games where athletes and coaches spend the night in hotels, often with no parents present, in locker rooms and “personalized” coaching sessions.

Often coaches who turn out to be abusers have earned the trust of the young athletes, parents and the community by appearing to always have the athletes’ best interests in mind, by having a winning program, and appearing to be upstanding people who garner trust and respect.

Classic “grooming” may take place over a period of years. The coach may have shown special attention to an intended victim, may have advanced an athlete’s role on the team and may have developed a friendship with the family.

What are the signs that an adult may be grooming a child for future sexual abuse?

Signs to look out for include an adult:

  • Failing to respect boundaries, through physical touch
  • Attempting to be an athlete’s friend rather than an adult role model
  • Spending time alone with the athlete
  • Directly contacting the athlete outside the normal channels of communication
  • Engaging with the athlete on personal matters (for example, hiring the athlete to work at the adult’s house unsupervised, or discussing the athlete’s romantic life)
  • Giving gifts without reason
  • Giving the athlete special treatment within the team or competitive environment

What are the long-term impacts of sexual abuse?

The effects of sexual abuse on children can last a lifetime. The shame, guilt, fear and anger that result from sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted adult, like a coach, can have far-reaching repercussions, including long-term psychological, emotional, physical and medical impacts.  Often, survivors of childhood sexual abuse develop “psychological armor” to survive the experience, such that it is not unusual for survivors to go decades before beginning to understand the impact of abuse on their lives.

What should I look for in an athlete sexual abuse lawyer?

The key words are experience, sensitivity and aggressiveness. PCVA’s sexual abuse attorneys have successfully handled athlete sexual abuse cases for years and recovered millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts for victims while ensuring the abusive behavior of perpetrators ends. Our attorneys are empathetic and understand the traumatic nature of abuse cases, even if they are pursued years or decades after the alleged abuse took place.

PCVA’s sexual abuse attorneys have also undergone professional training on how to work with individuals who have been subjected to trauma to prevent re-traumatization. When you work with us, know that you are working with an advocate who represents you with the utmost empathy and care. And equally important, we are relentless advocates and will not rest until justice on behalf of victims is achieved.

How common is sexual abuse in youth sporting organizations?

Unfortunately, sexual abuse within youth sports organizations is all too common. Youth sports leagues attract sexual predators, who exploit their positions of authority to gain access to minors.

“Every parent needs to be vigilant because predators continually show up – whether it’s soccer, gymnastics, wrestling, swimming, or any sport – and take advantage of parents and their children who have hope for sport scholarships if their child just pleases the coaches with their performance,” says PCVA attorney Darrell Cochran. “When an organization fails to use sensible hiring, screening, and supervisory processes, these sexual abusers have an easy time isolating and assaulting youths with ruthless and terrifying efficiency.”

Why don’t victims always come forward right away?

Courtney Butler told KIRO News, “I wish when I was younger I would’ve done something about it, but I didn’t believe in myself. I believed my perpetrator. And what I really want people to know, girls to know and guys too, I just want them to understand that there is no shame in this.”

Regarding a settlement on Courtney’s behalf, PCVA attorney Darrell Cochran stated, “Our clients and their parents are heroes for having the courage to step forward and take on this establishment when instead of standing by these sexually abused players, the Blackhills Football Club turned on them, denying that anything had happened and destroying documents to hide evidence that would help prove what had happened.”

Can I come forward or sue anonymously if I’m worried about my privacy?

Most likely. The law usually allows attorneys to file lawsuits on behalf of survivors of sexual abuse using a pseudonym, like “John Doe” or “Jane Doe,” or our client’s initials. Moreover, it may be possible to resolve your case privately without filing a lawsuit or going to court.

What is the statute of limitations in Washington State for child sex abuse?

In Washington State, a special statute of limitations allows many victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits for the abuse they suffered many years later, even as adults. The law recognizes that survivors of childhood sexual abuse may not realize or appreciate how the sexual abuse harmed them until much later in life. If you were sexually abused, please contact us so that we can confidentially explain your legal options.

How PCVA Can Help

Our nationally recognized attorneys have represented thousands of sexual abuse survivors, helping them achieve justice by holding the institutions that failed to protect them accountable and recovering hundreds of millions of dollars in damages on their behalf. Our attorneys have been involved in some of the most complicated and concerning sexual abuse cases in the country and are often consulted by other law firms for guidance and expertise when representing sexual abuse survivors.

If you or a loved one has experienced sexual abuse or assault, our attorneys are here to listen and help. Schedule a no obligation consultation with one of our lawyers by completing our online form or calling us at (253) 948-3199 or (206) 536-2850. All conversations are completely confidential.

How much do you charge?

Our work is done on a contingency basis. This means that you do not pay us on an hourly basis, and we advance the costs of litigation. If we help you resolve your case, we receive a percentage of the amount you receive, and you reimburse us for the costs we advanced on your behalf.

Our Case Results

PCVA alone has handled numerous cases of athlete sexual abuse. Here are links to a few examples: