Is Abuse More Likely to Happen in Coaching Relationships?

Jerry Sandusky. Don Peters. Graham James. Bobby Dodd. Bernie Fine. All well-known, and trusted, coaches who have been accused of sexually abusing the children they coached or mentored. But are news reports over-focusing on this issue? A report published by the New York Times says no, and quotes studies that claim abuse is even more widespread because coaching relationships give sexual abusers “opportunity and trust.”

…sports as an environment for sexual abuse is hardly new. Experts say it has all the significant ingredients that can lead to such abuse: coaches have close relationships with children and unsupervised access to them, while holding a position of trust and authority that can often keep children from reporting the problems to their parents or other authority figures.

“It’s not new, but in sports it seems we are doomed to be shocked and appalled all over again,” said Dr. Sandra Kirby, an associate vice president for research at the University of Winnipeg, who led a study in the 1990s that found widespread instances of sexual misconduct involving coaches of the Canadian national team in various sports.

There have been no large-scale studies of the number of children abused by coaches, said David Finkelhor, lead researcher for the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

“It would be helpful to have an idea of what the numbers are,” Finkelhor said. “Because it is a large-risk environment. I don’t believe it’s that abusers are attracted to this more or less than any other profession, but it affords more opportunity. There is a lot of time spent traveling together for games, training after school away from the usual school environment. They are undressing in the locker room and showering.” NY Times, 10 Dec 2011.

If you have a child who is being coached, taught, or mentored by an adult, talk to them about sexual abuse. Click this link for a great guide by RAINN. If you suspect your child is being abused, learn the warning signs of sexual abuse at the Stop It Now website.