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Guest Blog: Voices for truth and dignity - combatting sexual violence in European sport through the voices of those affected

About the author: Dr Mike Hartill is a Reader in the Sociology of Sport at Edge Hill University. Working with 'Voices for truth and dignity', Mike explains how the Voice project aims to address the silence around child sexual abuse in sport settings, across Europe, by listening to the stories of those that have been subjected to sex by adults in whose care they were entrusted.

British sport governing bodies and agencies have known, since at least the 1990s, that sexual abuse and exploitation can be found in sport settings. Despite warnings from academic Celia Brackenridge (1985) it wasn’t until the high profile conviction of Olympic coach Paul Hickson in 1995, that governing authorities began to implement policies aimed at preventing abuse in sport.

Following the publication of ex-professional footballer Andy Woodward’s story about the abuse he suffered, the volume of current disclosures relating to football and the scale of media coverage around them is unprecedented. The stories of abuse told on national television and in the national press by Woodward and other players, have made a significant impact on the British public’s awareness of child sexual abuse in football.

This impact has confirmed what I have observed during my own research and teaching on this issue: the stories of survivors of abuse can have a transformative impact on those who hear them.

The sexual abuse of children is an issue that, as a society, we have struggled to discuss openly. Consequently, when children are subjected to sexual abuse they have often not felt able to talk about it; when they have, too often their voices have fallen on deaf ears. One feature of abuse in sport, evident from known cases, is that adults have often found it difficult to voice their concerns when they have felt something is wrong. In some cases, adults in sport (as in other institutional settings) have actively concealed and covered-up the abuse of children.

The aim of the Voice project is to address the silence around child sexual abuse in sport settings, across Europe, by listening to the stories of those that have been subjected to sex by adults in whose care they were entrusted.

But we don’t intend to just listen, we also want to harness the learning that can be found within these stories. These are invariably difficult to hear, but they are also immensely powerful instruments of change. Therefore, alongside and with the support of survivors of abuse in sport, we aim to strengthen the current efforts being made by British and other European coaches to safeguard children in sport and to provide them with a unique learning resource.

I am delighted that Sports Coach UK is partnering Edge Hill University in this challenging but important project. They have been at the forefront of developments in this area for many years and are committed to the provision of high-quality education services for the coaching community. We are also partnered by the NWG Network who specialise in combatting child sexual exploitation and house a new national Child Sexual Exploitation response unit.

Interviews have been underway for several months but we have an open invitation for anyone who has suffered sexual abuse in a sport setting to contact us to discuss the project in more detail. We would very much like to hear from you. If you would like to know more about the project and how to get involved, please go to our website, or contact Mike Hartill at [email protected] or on 01695 584763 (office).

Dr Mike Hartill, Reader in the Sociology of Sport, Edge Hill University

Follow: @Voicessport

References:

Brackenridge, CH (1985) ‘Problem? What problem?’ Thoughts on a professional code of practice for coaches’, unpublished paper presented to the Annual Conference of the British Association of National Coaches, Bristol, England, December.