Everyone can learn about response protocols, how to report, and what to do when abuse is disclosed
We all have a role to play to keep sport safe for youth. The conversation has already begun around injury prevention, concussion awareness, updating training methods, nutrition, and more.
But what of bullying and harassment, as well as emotional, physical, and sexual abuse? These are topics that should be part of the larger conversation about athlete safety.
Learning how to recognize abuse and misconduct in sport settings—and taking steps to prevent it—are foremost in creating a safer sport culture. But it’s still not enough. Having the knowledge and understanding to respond effectively if harmful behavior arises is a skill that everyone involved in sport should possess.
The U.S. Center for SafeSport’s Emotional & Physical Abuse & Misconduct Toolkit was created for coaches, volunteers, administrators, and others who work directly with athletes. A key component of the toolkit lays out thoughtful and constructive ways to respond to abuse and misconduct.
Being prepared if emotional or physical abuse or misconduct is disclosed is crucial to responding effectively. These considerations should be top-of-mind when developing a response protocol:
It can be hard to know what to say when someone tells you they have experienced misconduct or abuse, especially a child. But one thing is for certain: they trust you with this important information. Responding to disclosures with care and compassion—and the proper language—can set the tone for an effective response:
As highlighted in the toolkit, ignoring abuse and misconduct or assuming someone else is taking care of it is not an option. Those who observe or have knowledge of harmful behavior must do something. Report any known or suspected abuse and misconduct according to applicable laws and policies. This can mean reporting to organizational leaders as well as local law enforcement, depending on severity.
It’s common for people to be afraid to report abuse and misconduct for fear of retaliation from coaches, organization leaders, and peers. It’s important that programs or organizations prohibit and monitor this type of toxic behavior. Examples of retaliation against those making a report include an administrator demoting a coach, an athlete threatening a teammate, or a coach dropping a player from the team.
Retaliation can have a cumulative negative effect by causing further harm to those who have experienced abuse; erode trust within an organization; discourage others from reporting misconduct; and contribute to a culture that tolerates abuse and misconduct.