Coach Sexual Abuse
As parents, we trust coaches with our children’s physical and mental well-being. We may be aware of the risk that our child could suffer a sports injury—but far more damaging is the possibility that a beloved coach could sexually abuse the children in his care.
Why Is Coach Sexual Abuse So Common?
Coaches are not just entrusted with children—they’re given unrivaled access to children’s bodies and minds. Coaches are expected to be in locker rooms with children. They’re allowed to touch their bodies, often in intimate areas: just picture a gymnastics, dance, or swimming coach helping a child find the right position or execute a difficult move.
And, especially at high levels, coaches work with—and have the opportunity to exploit—children who are driven to excel in their sport. When the coach holds himself out as the only path to success, children who feel competitive pressures may do whatever the coach says is necessary to win favor and advance to the next level. One volleyball coach “threatened to use his national influence to thwart [athletes’] college prospects if they did not accept his advances.”
Coaches also have access to children for long periods of time—often years or decades. In that time, they can slowly build up trust and “groom” children for abuse. These abusers offer “special attention, understanding, and a sympathetic ear” to earn children’s trust before manipulating the relationship to isolate the child and enforce secrecy around the abuse. As one young gymnast told ESPN, her “coach impressed upon me that if I told my parents [about the abuse], they would be mad at me, and I believed him…. He used his power over me.”
It’s not just the children we typically think of as vulnerable who are at risk from abusive coaches. Arizona Congresswoman Martha McSally has reported that she was sexually abused by her track coach at an all-girls Catholic high school. She said that she never reported the abuse as a child due to the “fear and manipulation and shame” that he inflicted on her.
It’s little wonder that abused children struggle to find the words to level an accusation against their coaches. To make matters worse, schools and athletics programs often cover for or even actively shield their coaches from investigation, prioritizing athletic success over the well-being of children.
Coach sexual abuse may affect as many as 8% of all athletes across all sports.
Lawsuit Victories Against Abusive Coaches
It seems as if you can’t open a news website today without learning of another coach abuse scandal. Thankfully, many of these cases are going to court, and previous victims are finally winning.
Perhaps the most famous—and the one that raised public awareness of the issue—was Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who, for decades, sexually abused already at-risk boys through his Second Mile program. That abuse ultimately earned Sandusky 30 to 60 years in prison. For its role in ignoring or even enabling Sandusky to abuse children, Penn State:
- was fined $60 million by the NCAA,
- agreed to commit another $60 million to child abuse prevention and treatment efforts,
- settled for nearly $60 million with a group of 26 victims, and
- was fined $2.4 million by the U.S. Department of Education for failing to report crimes on campus.
U.S. Olympics teams have taken the lead in coach abuse cases recently. Not only did the USA Olympic gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar sexually abuse hundreds of girls, but there’s also evidence showing that leadership at USA Gymnastics actively covered for him. The judge announced that to Nassar that she had “just signed [his] death warrant,” sentencing him to 40 to 175 years for abusing over 100 girls. Similar accusations are unfolding against US Olympic swimming coach Sean Hutchison and the USA Swimming leadership.
More than 290 coaches and other officials involved with 15 U.S. Olympic sports organizations have been accused publicly of sexual misconduct since 1982. That’s an average of one incident every six weeks.
Our Recent Successful Cases Against an Abusive Coach
The coach sexual abuse attorneys at PCVA are proud to have played a role in obtaining some measure of justice for children subjected to coach abuse. We recently represented 3 former victims who were groomed and sexually abused for years by their soccer coach, David Cross, while the Black Hills Football Club stood idly by. That club agreed to pay our client $1.5 million rather than face a jury trial for our first client, and recently settled the claims of our second client for $2.25 million.
It’s important to point out that the criminal justice system often offers no recourse to victims due to overly restrictive statutes of limitations. In this case, the police had encountered Cross with the victim years prior and found his behavior to be “highly suspect and inappropriate.” Still, the police took no further action—and it was too late by the time their suspicions were proven true.
Cases like these force young, vulnerable victims to be both prosecutors and protectors of other children. Don’t face that burden alone.
Elite-level athletes are often the most at risk, but the overall statistics are terrifying: one out of six boys and one in four girls under 18 will be the victim of coach abuse.
PCVA Can Help
Our sexual abuse attorneys aren’t just knowledgeable and proven litigators—they’re parents themselves, and they’ve helped countless families pick up the pieces after an abusive coach has shattered their lives. We will do everything in our power to help you and your family.
If a coach has abused you or someone you love, please reach out to us. We can investigate your case, take the guilty to task, and stop that coach from ever abusing another child.