Slee Blackwell’s abuse law team has established a national reputation in this highly specialised field and has a client base spanning England and Wales. We are the ‘go to’ lawyers when the media want a legal view on sexual abuse and we are happy to do all we can to publicise the issue and help increase awareness of the problem. We have close links with charity Enough Abuse UK, whose founder Marilyn Hawes works tirelessly to provide training and education on grooming.
Marilyn is kindly offering her assistance to sporting organisations to help them address the problems they face. She recognises that there is an urgent need to educate everyone involved with children in sport. Officials in every sport and at every level must learn how to spot and deal with the abuse before it happens.
Young people engaged in sport are particularly vulnerable. The close relationship between coach and athlete in sport is one that abusers can prey upon. Sport brings adults and children into close proximity and it is in these environments that abusers thrive. We have known for many years that sexual abuse within sport is a serious issue, but the extent of the problem within football is only now emerging. A number of ex-professional footballers have recently spoken out.
Among them is Andy Woodhead who, along with our own Rachel Thain, is an ambassador for Enough Abuse UK. Andy played professional football for Bury and Sheffield United, but was abused as a junior player while at Crewe Alexandra from the age of 11 to 15. Andy bravely waived his anonymity to raise awareness of the problem.
Since Andy came forward other footballers have followed him by speaking about their experiences of being abused as young players. In doing so they have succeeded in putting abuse in football and sport at the top of the news agenda. At last people are taking the issue seriously, and players like Andy deserve full credit for this.
Andy’s story is one that is familiar to both Rachel and Elizabeth. They are currently involved in abuse litigation involving sports coaches in a range of sports. As they have said:
“Abusers have been using sport for many years to groom and sexually exploit young people, often under the noses of their parents and other responsible adults. There is a sense that as with the Savile scandal the full extent of the problem has yet to emerge. This might be the tip of an extremely large and extremely unpleasant iceberg.
The coach-athlete relationship is a complex one. When things go well, the bond between the athlete and their coach is the cornerstone of sporting success.
However, this close and pivotal relationship can leave young athletes in a vulnerable situation. Adult coaches can take advantage of this and use their position of trust to commit sexual abuse.
Children are encouraged to participate in sport and to reach for the pinnacle of sporting achievement. Elite athletes are especially vulnerable. Dreams of Olympic glory or Premier League riches fuel a burning desire to succeed. The athlete’s parents and family often make sacrifices and this places an additional financial and moral burden on the child who doesn’t want to let them down. They can become dependent on a coach who holds the key to their sporting success. As the relationship develops athletes find themselves being taken away from the safety of their home or school and placed in environments which they may not be equipped to deal with.
Athletes who are desperately seeking playing time, selection, top level coaching, or funding are the junior partners in an unequal power relationship so when abuse occurs it can be difficult for them to break free.
On a positive note, since the Savile scandal broke abuse survivors have become increasingly willing to speak out. As a society we are now far better informed about the prevalence of abuse. Survivors who have gone public have, on the whole, received a great deal of support from the general public and hopefully this will encourage other survivors to follow suit.”
Rachel Thain can be contacted via email at [email protected] or on 01823 354545. She can found on twitter @rachelthainlaw Elizabeth Duncan can be contacted via email at [email protected] or on 01823 218404. She can found on twitter @LizDunx. More information here https://www.abusecompensation.co.uk/