Abuse risk for disabled athletes

Children and young people who have a learning or physical disability are more vulnerable to abuse than others when they take part in sport.

They often depend on different people for care and handling, some of which can be intimate, says an updated statement on child protection in sport for governing bodies produced by Children 1st and Sportscotland.

Such young people may be unable to understand the inappropriateness of actions or unable to explain to others what is wrong. Like other children they fear disclosing abuse and sometimes signs of abuse can be misinterpreted as a symptom of disability.

Some young people may suffer in silence because it is generally assumed that children with disabilities are not abused, the joint statement says; it has been updated from the first version in 2002.

But it is not the responsibility of anyone involved in sport to decide whether or not a child has been abused. "This is the role of trained professionals. We all, however, have a duty to act on any concerns about abuse," the agencies state.

Abuse by coaches and sports leaders can take several forms, including emotional abuse. Some may constantly humiliate or bully by telling children they are useless and persistently failing to show them any respect.

Physical abuse can reveal itself in overtraining or overplaying of athletes or even assisting or condoning drug use. The agencies caution that boys and girls can be sexually abused by either sex, including other young people.

Adult leaders in clubs and activities are reminded that they should never engage in sexually provocative games, including horseplay, or become involved in rough or physical contact, except within the rules of a game.

Leaders are warned not to share rooms alone with children on trips away from home and are cautioned that some abusers have "groomed" children through messaging and internet chat rooms. Mobile phone numbers of children should be carefully stored and access controlled.

Adults should also watch out for mobiles being used to record images of young people in changing rooms and sleeping areas.

Creating a Safe Environment for Children in Sport: Scottish Governing Bodies, Child Protection Guidelines is available on www.tes.co.ukscotland.

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