sexual harassment and abuse in sport

What is bystanding?

- Bystanding is having suspicions of or knowledge about sexual abuse to an athlete but failing to do anything about it
- Passive attitudes/non-intervention, denial and/or silence by people in positions of power in sport (particularly bystanders) increases the psychological harm done by sexual harassment and abuse
- Lack of bystander action also creates the impression among victims that sexually harassing and abusive behaviours are legally and socially acceptable and/or that those in sport are powerless to speak out or do anything to stop it

Case study “Gao”

Gao is an 18 yr old rookie on the Senior National Handball team.  She is excited to have been selected and she quickly becomes an integral part of the team, both on and off the court.

The team members work hard in pre-season training and bond well. Their coach, Ling, expects a successful competitive season.  The tournament season begins well with two wins in continental qualifying tournaments leading up to the World Championships. 

One day after practice, Gao asks to have a meeting with Ling in her office.   Gao arrives late, appears uncomfortable and is fidgety in the chair.  She is unable to express herself clearly.  Eventually, she begins to cry. Ling encourages Gao to tell her what is going on.  Finally, Gao reveals to Ling that Xhen, the team captain, has been sexually abusing her since her arrival at the team training centre.



What should Ling do now?

Keep calm 
- Listen and hear but ask no leading questions
- Acknowledge the athlete’s courage in disclosing
- Assure the athlete this is not her fault
- Avoid judging the abuser
- Keep an accurate and factual written record
- Observe confidentiality but explain that she may have to tell another adult

 What should be done now for Gao?

The sport organisation’s policy and procedures for athlete welfare should be implemented
- Gao’s disclosure should be reported what has happened to the welfare officer, sport organisation and local statutory agencies (for social services/the police)
- She should be referred to an appropriate external organization for counselling and support support
- She should be kept informed of the investigation and how it is progressing