An In-Depth Look at Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports

Home  »  Sex Crimes   »   How Common is Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports?

How Common is Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports?

How Common is Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports?

Nov 29, 2022

Sexual abuse in youth sports is a systemic issue impacting children and young athletes across the nation. With high-profile sports sex abuse scandals such as Larry Nassar and U.S.A. Gymnastics, Dr. Robert Anderson and the University of Michigan, Jerry Sandusky and Penn State, as well as Richard Strauss and Ohio State University making headlines over the past decade, a greater emphasis is being placed on protecting both children participating in youth sports and college athletes from sexual predators.

An In-Depth Look at Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports

But the statistics indicating the prevalence of sexual abuse in youth sports remain extremely concerning. In the sections below, we will look at some important data related to sex abuse impacting child athletes, review some tips from pediatricians to help parents talk to their kids about sexual abuse in sports, and provide information on how to file a claim for damages against a perpetrator with the experienced sex crimes attorneys at Dordulian Law Group.

Latest 2022 Statistics on Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports

Sexual abuse in youth sports is a scourge which has plagued major institutions like U.S.A Gymnastics, but it also impacts children on a local level, as we have noted on a number of occasions in recent blogs.

In the past few months alone, the following Los Angeles-area youth sports sexual abuse scandals have been reported:

Unfortunately, those are only a handful of the countless reports of youth sexual abuse scandals involving Los Angeles-area coaches. But as recent studies show, the prevalence of sexual abuse in youth sports is perhaps an even more serious issue than many parents or advocates realize. confirms the following statistics on sexual abuse in youth sports:

  • Abuse occurs in all types of organized youth sports.
  • Studies indicate 40% to 50% of athletes have experienced anything from mild harassment to severe abuse.
  • Research suggests that sexual abuse in sports impacts between 2% to 8% of all athletes.
  • 90% of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way.
  • 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.
  • Child abuse occurs at every socio-economic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education. When people think “not in our school’s athletic program; not in this religious league; not amongst my people; and not on a team in this neighborhood,” they contribute to a culture of denial where predators are protected.

Additionally, World Athletics conducted a major research project with a group of university and sports partners which looked at how frequently sexual abuse occurs in youth sports across the globe. The findings were staggering.

Child Abuse in Sport: European Statistics (CASES) Study Reveals Worldwide Issue

The study from World Athletics revealed the following statistics on sexual abuse in youth sports:

  • 65% of adults (aged 18-30) reported experiencing psychological violence as children.
  • 44% reported experiencing physical violence inside sport as children.
  • Neglect was experienced by 37% of respondents.
  • 35% reported experiencing non-contact sexual violence.
  • 20% reported contact sexual violence.
  • The prevalence of interpersonal violence against children is lowest for respondents in recreational sport (68%) and highest for those who competed in international sport (84%).
  • Children belonging to ethic minority groups are significantly more likely to experience abuse at 76.9%.
  • Figures for each form of interpersonal violence were broadly similar across countries, suggesting the problem is not unique to one country.

The World Athletics study included data collected from 10,302 adults (previous youth sports participants) in the U.K., Austria, Belgium, Germany, Romania, and Spain.

Professor Mike Hartill, Director of Edge Hill University’s (U.K.) Centre for Child Protection and Safeguarding in Sport (CPSS), led the study.

“Our findings are obviously of great concern. We have seen a number of high-profile cases of child abuse in sport in recent times, but this research helps us to understand the scale of the problem more clearly,” Hartill said.

“The data shows that these experiences are common in the sports sector which is supposed to provide children with a positive and healthy space. This study offers valuable evidence for sport organizations to work with and respond to. We are encouraged by the support the project has had from our sport partners and hope that our report is a good starting point for a cultural shift within sport.”

U.S. Center for SafeSport Act Aims to Protect Young Victims from Sex Abuse

In 2017, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act was passed and codified by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the nation’s leading organization working to protect young athletes from sexual abuse.

The legislation gave SafeSport the scope and authority to resolve abuse and misconduct reports for more than 11 million individuals throughout the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement – two organizations from whom SafeSport confirms they are “fully independent.”

“The Act also charged us with developing and enforcing policies, procedures, and training to prevent abuse and misconduct. The Center’s SafeSport Code governs all participants in the Movement, and our oversight authority helps us ensure all Olympic & Paralympic national governing bodies (NGBs) adhere to Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policies (MAAPP) that support athlete safety,” SafeSport said.

SafeSport also indicated they had received more than 7,000 abuse and misconduct reports from survivors since 2017. As a result, the organization has since implemented a number of initiatives to help prevent future cases of sexual abuse in youth sports:

  • 3 million online training sessions completed
  • 12 new courses developed to educate and inform on the systemic issue of youth sexual abuse
  • Increased investigative staff by over 400%
  • Launched a three-year strategic plan in 2020 to hold those in youth sports (as well as SafeSport itself) to a higher standard of accountability

Child Athlete Bill of Rights Launched to Protect Young Athletes from Sexual Abuse

Two major nonprofit organizations working to end sex abuse in youth sports and support victims – Child U.S.A. and the Army of Survivors – recently launched the Child Athlete Bill of Rights advocacy campaign.

The Child Athlete Bill of Rights aims to (using the acronym SAFE) protect all young athletes through:

  • S is for SAY: Children have the right to say no at any time
  • A is for ACT: Children have the right to disclose to an adult when they feel uncomfortable
  • F is for FEEL: Children need to have the space and support to express their feelings
  • E is for EDUCATION: Children and their caregivers need to be educated about what abuse is and how they can report it

The Child Athlete Bill of Rights also calls for comprehensive background screenings, education for children and adults, adoption of a code of conduct, supervisory safety procedures, and a reporting policy, according to a report from the Indianapolis Star.

Additionally, the Aspen Institute’s Play Project recently developed a Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports. Said initiative identifies eight rights among young athletes:

  1. To play sports: Organizations should make every effort to accommodate children’s interests to participate, and to help them play with peers from diverse backgrounds.
  2. To safe and healthy environments: Children have the right to play in settings free from all forms of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), hazing, violence, and neglect.
  3. To qualified program leaders: Children have the right to play under the care of coaches and other adults who pass background checks and are trained in key competencies.
  4. To developmentally appropriate play: Children have a right to play at a level commensurate with their physical, mental and emotional maturity, and their emerging athletic ability. They should be treated as young people first, athletes second.
  5. To share in the planning and delivery of their activities: Children have the right to share their viewpoints with coaches and for their insights to be incorporated into activities.
  6. To an equal opportunity for personal growth: Programs should invest equally in all child athletes, free of discrimination based on any personal or family characteristic.
  7. To be treated with dignity: Children have the right to participate in environments that promote the values of sportsmanship, of respect for opponents, officials, and the game.
  8. To enjoy themselves: Children have the right to participate in activities they consider fun, and which foster the development of friendships and social bonds.

How Should Parents Talk to Kids About Sexual Abuse in Sports?

A recent article published in the Union Democrat included tips from two pediatricians – Dr. Stacy W. Thomas and Dr. Michele LaBotz – to help parents talk to their children about sexual abuse in youth sports.

The pediatricians recommended that parents:

  • Speak with children “Openly, in ways your child can understand, about private body parts, inappropriate touching, and respectful relationships. By starting this conversation, you create an environment in which children are comfortable talking about their bodies and sexuality. After all, how can a child who doesn’t have appropriate language for sexual body parts possibly tell anybody that someone touched those body parts in a way that was uncomfortable?”
  • Keep no secrets and “Make sure your child knows that it is never OK for an adult or older child to tell them to keep a secret from you. Sexual abuse thrives in an environment of secrecy. Sexual offenders use secrecy as a way to groom a child and to make the child feel somehow responsible for their own abuse: ‘This is just our little secret, right?’ This simple rule – no secrets – is one of the best ways to guard against abuse.”
  • Explain that adults can help by letting children “know that you can handle anything they ever need to tell you. Many victims of child sexual abuse report that they did not tell about the abuse because they were afraid of how the information would make their mom or dad feel. Children must know that their caregivers are prepared, or know how to get help, for any problem they may face.”
  • Know the risk of sexual abuse in youth sports and acknowledge it. As the pediatricians note, “… deciding not to think about the risk takes away your power to recognize and prevent it. Make sure you have that power, and that you equip your children with that same power.”
  • Talk to your child’s coaches, teachers and other mentors. “Any youth-serving organization should have written policies and procedures for child safety. These policies must provide clear physical and behavior boundaries about how adults interact with children. Policies should encourage staff to recognize and report suspicious behaviors.
  • Avoid one-on-one situations between children and unrelated adults. “Any interaction that a child has with an adult who is not a parent should be visible to others. This one simple rule greatly reduces a child’s risk for sexual abuse. Without privacy, an offender has fewer chances to abuse a child. This rule also applies to physical examinations by medical care providers. Whenever possible, parents and other staff members, such as a nurse, should be in the room and able to observe what is taking place,” Dr. Thomas and LaBotz wrote.

How to File a Youth Sports Sexual Abuse Civil Claim/Lawsuit

When sexual abuse impacts a child athlete, criminal charges will likely be filed by the local District Attorney’s Office against the perpetrator. But a separate civil claim seeking damages may also be filed by the survivor or survivor’s family.

A youth sports sexual abuse civil claim with Dordulian Law Group (DLG) can be a means of recovering a number of applicable damages:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma
  • Psychological harm
  • Counseling or therapy expenses – past and future
  • Medical care costs – past and future
  • Punitive damages
  • Reduced quality of life

To speak with a youth sports sexual abuse attorney from DLG, contact us today for a free, confidential, and no obligation consultation at 818-322-4056. Our dedicated team of child sexual abuse lawyers is led by Sam Dordulian, a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County who has obtained life sentences against some of the most dangerous local sexual predators and now fights for justice on behalf of survivors in civil court.

At DLG, we have the experience and proven results you deserve when seeking justice for your youth sports sexual abuse claim. With more than $100,000,000.00 in settlements and verdicts recovered for our clients and a 98% winning record, you can have peace of mind throughout the entire legal process knowing that your case is in the best possible hands.

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

Contact us today at 818-322-4056 to learn more about your rights after a youth sexual abuse incident.

DLG’s Los Angeles sexual abuse attorneys are dedicated to fighting aggressively on behalf of all survivors, working as their dedicated legal advocates to recover the maximum financial compensation they deserve.

Go See Sam