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Children in sports need better protection from sexual abuse

Children involved in sport are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse


Sexual abuse in sports is more common than generally assumed, according to a new study by the Swiss Association for the Protection of Children. The association has put forward measures for clubs and teachers to try to prevent abuses.

The study, released on Tuesday, said sexual abuse ranged from touching to outright violence. It said it mostly occurred in schools and sports clubs and associations.

Brigitte Zund, president of the association, says sports organisations provide an ideal environment for sexual abuse. "Children have to change clothes, they take showers, they travel together, they go to camps together, and in sports, people have to touch each other. And very often, the trainer is very close to the children. They sometimes even act as substitutes for the parents, and there is a very strong dependence between trainer and child."

In detailed interviews with 15 young victims, the association said most had argued that body contact was inevitable in sport. They had also tried to justify the actions of trainers, even if they found them disagreeable, by extending their definition of acceptable behaviour. Zund says victims may do this to protect a trainer who they are close to, as well as themselves.

"When children want to be successful, they give themselves totally to their trainers. This very high dependence often leads to children not talking about abuses. They know that they will lose their future in sport if they do."

To try to prevent abuse, the association is recommending that sports clubs and associations discuss the issue in an open and explicit way, and to develop rules which forbid sexual contacts between trainer and child. It also urged clubs to make trainers sign contracts in which they pledge to behave correctly.

The Swiss Olympic Association says it has been aware of the problem for at least two years, after Swiss television revealed that few sports organisations took steps to prevent sexual abuse. Marco Blatter, chief executive of the association, said the study led it to set up a working group, which developed measures to prevent abuse and harassment.

"Among the main measures are that people doing sport must be encouraged to observe their environment and look out for any changes of behaviour in young people. Everyone should feel responsible for reporting anything unusual. Also, sports leaders must become more aware. In sport it is very difficult to draw a line between a touch that is friendly, and one that is harassment."

swissinfo with agencies

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