Within the last few years, the U.S. gymnastics industry’s history of sexual abuse by coaches and doctors, as well as their egregious attempts at covering it up, have been brought to light. Along with this knowledge, hundreds of new allegations of sexual assault have been made—some recent, and some from now older gymnasts who needed time to process their trauma before coming to terms with it. In response to the reports, SafeSport was created, and now requires adults who become aware of child abuse or sexual misconduct to report it to SafeSport as well as to local law enforcement. However, the reports have also left many parents feeling confused as to how they could have missed signs that their child was being abused. While we should always be able to trust that our children’s coaches and teachers have their best interest at heart, unfortunately, that is not always the case, so it is important to be vigilant and to be our child’s first advocate.
Red Flags of Abuse
Parents have said that the coaches accused of sexually abusing their children were often the coaches that were the friendliest to them. It can be incredibly jarring to learn that an adult you trusted and considered a friend hurt your child—in fact, they are likely the last person you would have thought would abuse your child—however, that is exactly why they do it. If you notice a coach trying to overly ingratiate themselves with you or assert themselves as another parental figure with your child, such as by spending time alone with the child, this may be a red flag, and it is important to consider asserting clearer boundaries around the coach’s role and when and how the coach is permitted to interact with your child.
A number of parents with children who claim they were abused by their coaches recalled their child receiving gifts from their coach that not all of the other children received. While there can be merit to coaches rewarding certain achievements, these rewards should be consistent across all athletes. If your child seems to be receiving gifts or special treatment for no reason, it could very likely be a red flag.
Be involved with your child’s chosen sport. Attend practices and tournaments and observe how the coach interacts with the children. The coach should not be touching the athlete’s breasts or private areas, even if in the process of adjusting their leotard or when spotting them during exercises. There should also be no massaging of athletes, tickling, roughhousing, or unnecessary touching in general. Coaches should also not be comfortable discussing their own sex lives or making sexual jokes or remarks around the children.
Signs of an Unhealthy Psychological Bond
While signs like this can sometimes go unnoticed, it is important to also look for signs of an unhealthy psychological bond between your child and their coach. Coaches who abuse children often have an unhealthy attachment to the child’s success. If you catch a coach putting what seems like personal pressure on your child, acting differently around your child in front of people versus when they think they are alone, or overly reacting to relatively normal successes and failures of the child, these are all red flags that the child may have a toxic or unhealthy relationship with their coach.
Find Someone Experienced in Handling Sexual Abuse
If you believe your child has experienced abuse or sexual misconduct, it is important to know that it is not your fault. While there may be red flags that you can look out for, predators do their best to avoid raising suspicion, and often have a lifetime of practice. Start taking your power back by contacting an experienced Florida Sexual Abuse Attorney as soon as possible. Attorney Andrea Lewis represents victims of sexual misconduct, including child athletes, and she is experienced in handling cases against the governing bodies of large sporting institutions, such as US Figure Skating and the French Federation of Ice Sports.