Childhood Sexual Abuse In Youth Sports Leagues

Former members of youth sporting programs, including Little League Baseball and the Salvation Army, say that these organizations are failing to protect young athletes from sex abuse.

When children fall victim to molestation and other forms of sex abuse because organizers neglect to monitor coach behavior, they should be held accountable for the pain, suffering, and loss experienced. Our experienced team of attorneys can help.

Brian Kent “Coach sexual abuse of children in youth sports can be stopped or at least greatly minimized, but many league organizations are refusing to take the necessary steps.”

— Brian Kent, Esq.

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Recreational team sports are popular pastimes among American children, and many join youth organizations such as Little League Baseball to further develop their sporting abilities, compete, and make friends. Tragically, for some youth, these programs are a far cry from the childhood haven they’re reputed to be, with many youth athletic clubs and camping organizations across the country rocked by horrific child sex abuse scandals.

young children playing baseball

Survivors of sexual abuse in youth sports are now filing lawsuits, saying that Little League and other athletic league organizations are contributing to the abuse of minors by failing to prevent known or suspected sex offenders from serving as volunteers, where they can easily circumvent child protection measures and use trusted coaching or administrative positions to prey on young children.

 

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Ideally, Youth Sports Offer Considerable Benefits

Youth sporting camps and after-school programs are a well-established institution in the U.S., most prominently those run by nonprofit organizations such as Little League Baseball and The Salvation Army. They’re designed to allow children to engage in and improve their abilities in the sports they love within a safe, supportive environment. Baseball, soccer, and other popular team games are not only rich in social interaction, skill-building, and the benefits of physical fitness, but also can evolve into lifelong hobbies or even eventual career choices.

Children who are passionate about sports spend a significant amount of time practicing with their coaches and teammates. Participating with the team builds camaraderie and can be very beneficial to all involved. Youth athletes often develop close friendships with their fellow team members and coaches.

Sex Abuse Risks In League Programs

Though sporting programs can have a positive effect on children’s lives when they’re run properly, those that aren’t conscientious in implementing and enforcing regulations aimed at ensuring child safety can seriously endanger young members. For example, in youth organizations where adult volunteers are not carefully screened before they’re allowed to participate as coaches or other authority figures, children are at a heightened risk of being sexually abused.

Like any type of teacher, coaches hold a lot of responsibility as mentors. At best, they can help a child grow and learn as athletes and inspire team members to great heights. But because youth sports coaches hold so much power over the children they train, the position can be misused by child molesters seeking to gain access to children and to use their power and influence to victimize them. Some specific risks that may render children vulnerable to molestation or other forms of sexual abuse in athletic programs include:

  • Long Hours After School. Children often engage in sporting practice after school or on weekends, during times when their parents aren’t available to watch them. If coaches aren’t diligent enough about watching team members, bullying, harassment, or abuse may occur between teammates. But worse yet, coaches themselves may take advantage of unmonitored time to prey on children in their teams, especially if the organization has hazy rules regarding appropriate conduct for coaches.
  • Grooming.  Predatory coaches may target one or a few children on the team with “grooming behaviors.” Child molesters are known to “groom” potential victims by offering special attention, gifts, or making friends with the child’s family or circle of friends. This can manipulate a child into thinking the perpetrator has a loving relationship with him / her, ultimately lowering defenses to unwelcome advances, as well as making it more difficult for the child to report bad behavior from the adult due to peer pressure, thinking no one will believe him / her, or not wanting to displease the rest of team or family / friends who hold the coach in high esteem. You can read more about the characteristics and effects of grooming from the National Center for Victims of Crime.
  • Overnight Camping. Some organizations hold summer camping trips or competitive events requiring travel. Such situations put children at an even higher risk of suffering sexual abuse, especially when parents or other loved ones are unable to come along to watch and care for them. Rooming or sharing a tent with their fellow youth athletes and with even coaches and other adult volunteers renders them particularly vulnerable to attacks and other forms of abuse, as seen in heartbreaking sex abuse cases involving the Boy Scouts of America.

Organizations Should Actively Prevent Sex Abuse

Youth organizations have a duty to protect their members from harm. Risks of sexual abuse and violence should be considered unacceptable for organizations that families trust to provide children with safe after-school activities and a trusted community of peers and mentors.

Screening / Hiring

First of all, there should be strict criteria determining who can volunteer or work as a coach. Criminal background checks and other crucial hiring processes should be mandatory, but shockingly, some programs have only very recently adopted such measures, and others have regulations in place but don’t always follow procedure.

Response To Sex Abuse Reports

Another crucial element in child sex abuse prevention is the handling of abuse reports. An abuse reporting system should be well-established and respond quickly and effectively to complaints, so that all suspected sexual misconduct is properly investigated. This way, the organization can quickly end the abuse through removal of the perpetrator. Also, it’s crucial for law enforcement and / or child protective services to be notified of the incident(s), so that any further offenses can be prevented. Oftentimes, such reporting of abuse is mandatory according to child protection laws.

Monitoring Of Volunteers

Also, as we’ve discussed, coaches and other volunteers / employees in sporting programs should be thoroughly informed on what constitutes proper interaction with youth members. Coaches shouldn’t be permitted to spend a significant amount of time with children without the presence of parents or other trustworthy adults.

Bottom line — responsible organizations should take every measure to ensure that unscrupulous individuals won’t have the opportunity to take advantage of children.

Taking Legal Action Against Youth Organizations

If sporting organizations fail to protect youth members, they can be held at least partially responsible for abuse through civil lawsuits. If found liable for incidents of abuse, defendants may be order to pay thousands or even millions of dollars in restitution by court. Some organizations may attempt to resolve a complaint out of court through settlement negotiations.

Allegations Raised In Child Sex Abuse Cases

Common accusations leveled at sports program administrators in recent lawsuits include:

Negligence

Children should be able to expect they’ll be safe from harm when engaging in sports programs. Organizations running these programs owe it to the the public and to their members to exercise “reasonable care” in developing, practicing, and enforcing safety measures to prevent and stop sexual abuse, and are expected to be aware of the ways in which children are particularly vulnerable to sexual predators in organized sports. For example, inadequate vetting, hiring, and monitoring of volunteers and employees can get organizations accused of negligence.

Concealment / Fraud

If abuse occurs within an organization and is kept a secret from the public, the organization may be accused of concealment. Hiding, attempting to minimize or downplay, or outright lying about risks of sexual abuse posed to children will likely lead to more youth members falling victim to abuse.

Can I File Both Criminal And Civil Suits?

Circumstances can vary dramatically depending on specific case details, so victims and their families are urged to explore their legal rights by contacting experienced lawyers. In many cases abuse survivors are indeed permitted to press criminal charges against perpetrators and also file civil claims against organizations that contributed to abuse through negligence or failing to warn the public of sex offense conviction records and other vital information on volunteers found guilty of sexual abuse.

Unfortunately for victims, criminal trials are often focused on convicting the perpetrator, with little or no thought for much-needed psychological and financial support for the victim(s). Sexual abuse  is tremendously damaging, especially for children, and can lead to a lifetime of pain and suffering. This is why many families must turn to civil lawyers to get help in seeking moral support and compensation.

Unlike many criminal prosecutors, civil lawyers keenly understand that victims need compassionate counsel to help them heal from their experiences. Survivors of sex abuse may need years of therapy and other forms of support to help them recover from trauma. Organizations that allowed sex abuse to occur should be held accountable and required to help victims on their journey to recovery. Taking legal action against those responsible for sexual assault and misconduct also may help parents and children throughout a local community, city, or even entire state protect their families from suffering similar abuse.

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