Youth sports provide kids with opportunities to learn about teamwork and perseverance, improve their skills, exercise, and have fun. It may also be the ticket to scholarships, higher education and a professional athletic career for a select few. Unfortunately, youth sports also provide ample opportunities for sexual predators to misuse their positions of authority and trust and engage in horrific acts of sexual abuse.
Young athletes look up to their coaches. They turn to them for guidance, mentorship, and as examples of how to act. A coach can shower a child with praise or admonish them for a subpar performance. That kind of influence can teach valuable lessons and equip young people with life skills that will serve them well. But coaches can use that same power selfishly and cruelly to “groom” the children in their charge for their own sexual gratification. For good or evil, coaches can have an immense influence on children.
Sex Abuse Survivors Fear Coming Forward and Suffer a Lifetime of Pain
To make matters even worse, it can be difficult for parents to know if a coach is sexually abusing their child because of the child’s fear, reluctance, and shame about discussing their experiences. A child may be intimidated by a coach’s threats of retribution, such as being kicked off a team. The possibility of ostracism from their teammates or fear of how their parents will respond may also make a child think it is better to keep quiet. And they may stay silent for years or decades after their abuse, when shame, guilt, and self-blame prevent them from coming forward.
The impact of child sexual abuse by coaches, and the often willful inaction of sports institutions to prevent such misconduct or respond after allegations arise, is immense and long-lasting. Victims of sexual abuse by sports coaches often suffer deep emotional wounds and psychological injuries that leave them unable to trust or maintain fulfilling relationships with others. Self-destructive behaviors are also common due to survivors struggling with a debilitating sense of personal shame and low self-worth.
Justice and Accountability for Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse in Athletics
The abuse of children in sports has been a problem for decades, but only in recent years has the scope of the issue been revealed and perpetrators brought to justice. The most famous case is the horrific child sex abuse scandal involving former U.S. Olympic team physician Larry Nassar. For years, he sexually abused underage female gymnasts. It’s believed he assaulted at least 250 girls beginning around 1992. As early as the mid-1990s, girls and their families were making complaints against Nassar for inappropriate behavior. Still, it wasn’t until 2015, almost 20 years later, that any investigations were conducted, and he was finally held accountable by his victims and the criminal justice system.
The quest for accountability and justice understandably focuses on the perpetrators of these egregious acts. Victims can pursue claims against these individuals for the trauma and damage caused by their sexual abuse. But coaches and other adults in positions of authority often continue to abuse and victimize children and young adults because youth sports organizations or educational institutions fail to take appropriate action to prevent or stop sexual misconduct once reported. In such circumstances, victims can also seek compensation from the organizations that facilitated the abuse.
Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse by a Coach
Given the physical, hormonal, and emotional changes that all youths and adolescents experience, it can be easy to disregard signs of sexual abuse by a coach as typical or expected behavior such as moodiness, depression, or withdrawal. But if your child is involved in organized athletics, keep an eye out for these frequent signs of sexual abuse in sports:
- Wanting to quit a sport they used to love and enjoy.
- Suddenly not wanting to attend practice or games.
- Refusing to go to functions where the coach might be present.
- Avoiding talking about their coach.
- Refusing to tell a “secret” between their coach and them.
- A sudden drop in grades or loss of interest and focus on schoolwork.
- Unexplained anger, aggression, or fear.
- Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
Victims Can Now Seek Justice No Matter How Long Ago They Were Abused.
Those abused and assaulted by youth sports coaches can carry the burdens of their trauma for years or decades until they are ready to come forward. For a long time, these individuals in Maine could not seek justice from their tormentors because the abuse occurred too long ago and the statute of limitations for bringing such claims had passed.
But Maine legislators recently changed the law to allow any victim of childhood sexual abuse to sue and seek compensation from their abuser no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. Berman & Simmons Practice Group Leader Michael Bigos testified in the legislature on several bills to help survivors and was present when Maine Governor Janet Mills signed the new law to extend the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims.
Compassion, Confidentiality, and Care for Victims of Sexual Abuse by a Coach
At Berman & Simmons, our lawyers specialize in working with survivors of sexual abuse, including those victimized by coaches and sports organizations. We will work with you in a manner that acknowledges the difficulty of discussing your experiences. With empathy, respect, patience, and a steadfast dedication to your well-being, we will listen to you and guide you through every step of the process. Our lawyers are committed to maintaining confidentiality, respecting personal boundaries, and standing up against those who abused their power to take advantage of vulnerable children.
If you suffered sexual abuse as a child and are ready to speak with one of our Maine child sexual abuse attorneys and learn more about your rights, please contact us to arrange a free, confidential initial consultation.