Grooming & Whistleblowing – How to Tackle Sexual Abuse in Sport

This blog will look into how grooming and whistleblowing have an effect on sexual abuse within sports settings and ways we can help protect children and young people, so they can enjoy the sports that they love.

Thousands of children, all over the world enjoy getting involved in sports, whether they see it as a hobby or a future career path. But sometimes winning and progressing the team can take priority over the children’s safety and wellbeing and it has been found that sexual abuse is actually a big problem that is putting children and young people at risk whilst they attend sports activities. An estimated 3 million people have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16, but only around 1 in 8 children who have been sexually abused are known to police. 

During a webinar in July 2020 our Chief Safeguarding Officer, Mike Glanville, sat down with Jan Pickles OBE - a Freelance Safeguarding Consultant and Paul Stewart – a Former Professional Footballer, to discuss sexual abuse in sport. With the experiences that all three have had, they’ve found that one of the biggest issues that can lead to sexual abuse (or other forms of abuse) within sport, is grooming.  

What is Grooming? 

The NSPCC define grooming as “…when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.” Grooming is also something that can take place over a long period of time – from weeks to years and can happen anywhere at any time. Mike explained that as trends are changing there has also been a shift to online grooming and abuse that has been very significant over the last 5-10 years.  

In the 2020 webinar, Paul explained through his own experience, how his abuser groomed not only him, but his family too. He highlighted that abusers find ways to make themselves seem trustworthy and authoritative which puts them into a position of control. Jan also shed light on how abusers chose victims. Sometimes they choose already vulnerable people where a parent has died, or the parents are neglectful. Sometimes they go for a child so hungry to progress within their sport that it can be used to manipulate them. She also explained how abusers are “strategic by nature” and they will tailor their style to each individual and do anything to bring that child or young person close to them.  

Some methods used by abusers: 

  • Romantic Relationships  
  • Being Mentors  
  • An Authoritative figure  
  • A dominant/persistent figure 

But knowing about grooming and how it happens isn’t enough. During the webinar Mike, Paul and Jan discussed the importance of recording concerns, especially low-level concerns because it is only by doing this that you can get a better picture of what is going on within your organisation. They also discussed the need for a proactive whistleblowing culture. 

What is Whistleblowing? 

Whistleblowing is when a worker reports any wrongdoing that has happened, usually within a work environment. As a whistleblower you are also “protected by law, meaning you should not be treated unfairly or lose your job because you ‘blow the whistle’.”  But how do you promote a good culture of whistleblowing?

Jan says “ A good whistleblowing culture is where all staff say that in some way shape or form, part of their job is about protecting children. Good whistleblowing culture is when the cleaner makes a referral. Good culture is when junior members of staff feel comfortable raising their concerns.” If all sports organisations encouraged and nurtured an environment where staff of all levels feel comfortable to report high-level concerns or low-level nagging doubts, it not only holds the organisations accountable but helps to better protect the children and young people within their care.  

Examples of concerns:  

  • A child’s demeanour changes from loud and bubbly to quiet and reserved 
  • A child is scared to be in certain places e.g changing room or bathrooms
  • A child is scared of being near certain staff or volunteers  
  • A child shows high anxiety levels when attending/participating in activities  
  • A staff member or volunteer spending excessive amounts of time with 1 child  
  • A child gets special treatment from a member of staff/volunteer e.g - extra kit, extra training etc... 

Early Intervention 

Our three experts all agreed that once the abuse/grooming is happening it's too late. There needs to be measures in place to deter abusers and encourage clubs and organisations to make the safety of the children and young people in their care a priority.  

Things you can do: 

  • All staff from the highest level to lowest level have more than just tick box safeguarding training 
  • Make all staff, children and parents aware of your safeguarding policies and practices 
  • Educate children on what is right and wrong e.g not being alone with one member of staff
  • Have safeguarding posters visible in and around the facility 
  • Promote a good whistleblowing culture 
  • Take regular safeguarding walks 

If you would like to know more about anything mentioned in this blog, go and watch the full webinar now on-demand. The more we educate ourselves and hold ourselves accountable the safer we can make our organisations.  

Posted Date

1st March 2022

Kelly Ofasi
Marketing Executive

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