When the Penn State sexual abuse scandal broke, everyone resolved to do more to protect athletes in youth sports from abuse.
Then the USA Gymnastics sex abuse bombshell dropped. Coaches, gym owners, and support staff had been sexually abusing young athletes for decades, and nobody had alerted law enforcement authorities or done anything else that might have protected innocent lives.
These are not isolated incidents, or something that is specific to a particular sport. Sexual abuse is a serious problem across all youth sports. We know because Attorney Paul Mones and the other attorneys on our team are representing numerous clients who were sexually abused while participating in a youth sport.
Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports Organizations
Child predators are drawn to youth sports organizations because they know if they can get their foot in the door they will have virtually unlimited access to children who have been assured the adults they are interacting with have their best interests at heart. This puts abusers in the perfect position to groom potential victims.
Young athletes are particularly enticing victims because abusers know the kids and their parents are driven to win at almost any cost. At the highest levels, athletes and their families are used to unorthodox training regimens and particularly close relationships with coaches, mentors, and staff members, so things that would normally be a red flag for abuse fly under the radar.
The culture of many athletic organizations also reinforces bad behavior by claiming pain helps you get stronger, and complaining about something means you are weak.
When a team is winning, nobody cares about a coach’s techniques. He or she may yell and scream at the kids, or make them run laps until they puke, and nobody will say a word. This lack of oversight is dangerous.
Child predators will often seek to join a successful coaching staff, or present themselves as an expert in a particular sport knowing full well that nobody will pay too much attention to their behavior so long as the team is winning.
Players, who are told by their parents to listen to their coaches, or who know they will get more playing time if they are in the coach’s good graces are then in the perfect position to be groomed for sexual abuse.
When a coach is accused of sexual abuse, or even caught in the act, they are often fired unceremoniously and told to leave town or get reported to the police. Days later, another organization will announce they have made a great hire and that coach will be working with new kids. This practice is known as “passing the trash,” and it is shockingly common. Sports organizations, clubs, rec leagues, and schools don’t seem to care that they have put different kids at risk so long as they no longer have a problem on their team.
Mentors, Support Staff & Medical Staff Are Abusers Too
For years Larry Nassar sexually abused young gymnasts as well as other athletes and non-athletes under the guise of providing treatment during his time serving as a USA Gymnastics national team doctor and an osteopathic physician at Michigan State University. Nobody publicly questioned his unorthodox treatments because he was a doctor, but the testimony in his criminal case makes it clear that he was sexually abusing his patients.
Sports organizations must aggressively protect athletes against abuse like this that is hiding in plain sight. Trainers, doctors, and other members of a team’s support staff must be carefully vetted and closely supervised. Their interaction with players must be monitored no matter how trustworthy they seem.
Off-the-field interaction between players and staff members is always suspect. Staff members who encourage this behavior should be closely monitored for signs that they are abusing their position on the team.
Young players are desperate to get in the game, and willing to do whatever it takes to get more playing time. They are easily influenced by abusers who know they can take advantage of this situation to get themselves alone with young players who will believe and do whatever they are told.
Failure To Report Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports
Oftentimes coaches, support staff, or parents can tell something bad has happened, but the kids are too freaked out or scared to tell them exactly what occurred. This is a huge red flag. Coaches, staffers, and parents must push for the truth in these situations.
If sexual abuse is discovered, it should be immediately reported to the authorities. Too often, coaches, mentors, medical staff, support staff, facility owners, and the organizations that hire and supervise these people are willing to turn a blind eye to questionable behavior that should serve as a warning sign, or even rumors of abuse, if the team is winning. This makes them just as guilty as the actual abusers.
Sporting organizations, clubs, rec leagues, and schools may also be tempted to address allegations of abuse in-house. This is a mistake. Covering up problems instead of properly reporting them makes these organizations just as guilty as the abusers they harbor.
The Just Compensation You Deserve
Having your story heard, and bringing an abuser to justice is just one part of the healing process. You may need therapy, or realize that the abuse radically altered the course of your life. That is where monetary compensation comes in.
Seeking compensation for the abuse that you endured can help you move on in ways you never anticipated. It can also send a message that sexual abuse will no longer be quietly swept under the rug. Youth sports organizations, clubs, rec leagues, and schools need to be held accountable for the sexual abuse that occurred on their watch.
Paul Mones has over 30 years of experience representing victims of sexual abuse. He has helped many of them seek compensation and expose the hypocrisy at the heart of organizations that are supposed to be dedicated to enriching kids’ lives.
Experience You Can Trust
Attorney Paul Mones urges anyone who was abused while participating in a youth sport to contact our office to find out their options to obtain the justice they deserve. We represent victims who played on youth sports teams and understand the problems they face.