Who Is At Risk for Abuse in Youth Sports?


Stories of abuse in youth sports are becoming uncomfortably familiar in the news today. Misinformation and confusion only help protect abusers and put kids at risk. For instance, most abusers are not strangers, but rather people you and your children know and trust. And most men who abuse young’s boys consider themselves heterosexual, not homosexual. Knowing the signs and symptoms of abuse, as well as mandating volunteer background checks for everyone involved the league, can help sports leagues protect their players.

Are boys or girls more likely to be assaulted?

According to Darkness to Light, females are five times more likely to be abused than males, Who Is At Risk for Sexual Assault in Youth Sports?but young boys are not 100% safe from abuse. According to the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. A survey of high school adolescents showed that 17% of girls were physically abused and 12% were sexually abused, while 12% of boys were physically abused and 5% were sexually abused.

And while reported cases of abuse have been trending downward, the scary truth is not that fewer children are being abused, but rather, only about 38% of child victims disclose the fact that they have been sexually abused. They may have been shamed or bullied into silence by their abuser, feel that no one would believe them, or believe that the abuse is somehow their fault. Boys might be especially unwilling to report abuse, out of fear that it will make them seem weak. In fact, only 16% of men with documented histories of sexual abuse considered themselves to have been abused, compared to 64% of women with documented histories in the same study.

The lasting effects of abuse.

Children who have been abused are at significantly greater risk for posttraumatic stress and other anxiety symptoms depression and suicide attempts. They also suffer from behavioral problems, including physical aggression, non-compliance, and oppositionality. That’s why it’s so important that parents and coaches take note of any sudden change in behavior—they could be an indication of something going on behind the scenes.

And the long-term effects of abuse cannot be understated. Female adult survivors of child sexual abuse are nearly three times more likely to report substance use problems and male adult CSA victims are 2.6 times more likely to report substance use problems compared to the general population Adult women who were abused as a child are more than twice as likely to suffer from depression as women who were not abused. Young women who were abused as children are also four times more likely than their non-abused peers to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Who abuses children?

About 90% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser. Sexual predators are usually not random lurkers, or transients passing through town. They are, unfortunately, our neighbors and friends, our coaches and teachers. In fact, about 60% of children who are sexually abused are abused by people the family not only knows, but trusts. Most sexual predators take advantage of their position of power (such as a coach) to groom their victims and keep them silent. Over time abusers will use increasingly inappropriate comments and touches to cross acceptable boundary lines without the child (or anyone else for that matter) realizing what is happening.

Michelle Peterson, an expert on child sexual abuse, remarked;

I had with the director of a soccer program who created an abuse prevention policy of his own that required only male coaches travel and stay with male players and the same for female coaches and players…this coach clearly is not knowledgeable around sexual abuse as many male predators abuse male children and females abuse young girls as well.