With thanks to the viral #MeToo movement amongst other efforts, there has been long overdue progress in opening up the conversation about the prevalence of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault over the last few years. The movement focused initially on the frequency of cases in the workplace and over time, we have begun to see increasing reports of cases within sport. Larry Nassar was sentenced to upwards of 300 years in prison in 2018 after the ex national team doctor for USA gymnastics was accused of sexually abusing over 250 young women and 1 young man. Allegations against him dated as far back as 1992.
Decades of reports emerged about the entertainment industry, with high-profile cases of the likes of Jimmy Saville and Harvey Weinstein. And it seems that sport is another sector with many cases yet to be uncovered. UK athletics were accused of a sexual abuse allegation cover-up in 2016 and British canoeing investigated sexual assault claims in 2017. The Offside Trust reported at the end of last year that 80 sports coaches had been convicted of child sex abuse. Rowing too has seen its share of cases, with a coach in Pennsylvania accused of multiple counts of sexual misconduct and a mishandled case at Cal rowing in 2013 where a victim was told by her coach she was 'no angel anyway' when she came to him with a report of sexual assault.
Recently it has emerged that there are many cases within rowing in Britain and we must urge that British Rowing include further policies to protect those at risk. Point 10 under Rights of Individuals in British Rowing's Code of Conduct states that:
[Everyone in rowing has the right:] to enjoy an environment free of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and any behaviour that could be construed as abuse
But as of yet, there are no known policies to actively protect victims in cases of misconduct or assault. Clubs should be asked to sign a zero-tolerance policy on sexual misconduct. Cases have come to light where bias has been given in favour of perpetrators because of their rowing ability.
A petition has been made to urge British Rowing to make this change to protect young men and women who have been affected by sexual misconduct or could be at future risk. It is crucial we create a safe environment for athletes.
Please click here to sign the petition.
In an effort to encourage conversation about this subject, there is a comments section below. Submissions can be completely anonymous and will be moderated. We welcome any others that feel comfortable to share their experiences to come forward.
Next week on the 29-30 April the Council of Europe will be hosting a live conference you can watch here covering Sexual Violence against Women and Children in Sports. They've reported that 1 in 5 children in Europe are victims of some form of sexual violence, up to 85% know their abuser and 1/3 of those children will never tell anyone. It is up to adults to ensure the sporting environment we create is safe and to break the silence on sexual abuse. You can read more about why the risk factor for child sex abuse can be high in sport here.
Sport can become an empowering and protective environment for children
It is up to adults to prevent abuse, protect children and help to fight impunity
- Safeline offers counselling and online support services for those affected by sexual abuse, particularly young men.
- The Offside Trust are working to promote safeguarding of children in sport.
- SupportLine offer support for those affected by sexual abuse