Football abuse scandal update

Football abuse scandal proves that safeguarding training for all those working with children is vital

In the first week of launching, the NSPCC hotline for victims of sex abuse in football has received at least 860 calls. As such, the NSPCC have made more than three times as many referrals to the police as they did in the wake of the Jimmy Savile case. The latest figures show that, in total, police have received 250 reports of sexual abuse in football, with more than 20 former players speaking out about their abuse.

Two weeks ago, the Guardian released an interview with former Crewe Alexandra footballer Andy Woodward, who was the first to speak publicly about his alleged abuse.

There have been many helplines set up over the years for children and adults who have been sexually abused but none have managed to realise and uncover the size of the issue in football and sport more generally.

The launch of this new helpline, specifically developed and marketed for people who have experienced abuse in football has resulted in hundreds of callers in just the first week, begging the question – why didn’t they feel they could call the other helplines about historic child sexual abuse?

This question is best answered by considering the grooming methods of the abusers in the context of football culture. We already know that child sex offenders will groom children expertly to ensure that their victims are emotionally controlled in a way that makes disclosure incredibly difficult. Even when the child becomes an adult, they can often feel guilt, shame and blame which are barriers to seeking help.

When this abuse occurs within a masculine environment such as football and sporting clubs generally, the child may have experienced abuse from a manager, coach, player, therapist or investor. These people are likely to have been highly respected and influential for the young people they were responsible for, and with the perceived ability to help the child realise their dream of becoming a professional footballer. They could also have been intimidating and manipulative, threatening the child that they would not ‘make the team’ unless they did as they were asked. So whilst we know that child sex offenders are likely to have had many victims by the time they are apprehended (with some never being apprehended), it is likely that the victims will have felt alone, scared and threatened.

The new helpline, the media coverage about the surge in calls and the stories of former football players who have experienced abuse in football could be reducing those feelings of ‘I was the only one’ or ‘why did this happen to me?’ making disclosures now, more likely. The reports could be triggering memories of footballers, coaches, staff and parents who had concerns or experienced something at the time but convinced themselves that they had misinterpreted a situation or had deserved what happened to them.

How do we create the environment for safe disclosures for victims of child sexual abuse in different settings, without setting up hundreds of dedicated helplines for every possible environment that a sex offender could operate in?

Arguably, the answer lies within the quality training of all adults who work with children and young people in sports settings in the UK such as mentors, coaches, trainers, leaders, captains and managers. The training must involve spotting the signs of abuse and talking to young people in a way that might make disclosures easier for them, with the aim of preventing the abuse from happening at all, enabling any existing perpetrators to be discovered and stopped quickly and offering support to young people when they need it.

Our training arm JustWhistle is able to work with football associations and clubs all over the UK to ensure that their safeguarding knowledge, skills, procedures and policies are robust, up to date and that staff members feel confident to respond to concerns of abuse.

In September, we trained all of the coaches and safeguarding leads of a football association in short evening sessions which were shown to be impactful and effective in breaking down myths around abuse, increasing knowledge of grooming processes and sex offender methods and then reinforcing the safeguarding procedures in their association if they were to notice any signs of abusive behaviours or concerns about a child.

The NSPCC’s football abuse helpline can be called 24 hours a day on 0800 023 2642.

If you would like to find out more about the training we can provide for your sports club or association, please fill in your details on the form on our website and we will get back to you to discuss what is right for your staff and volunteers and provide a quote. Please find the form here.



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