to Emotional and Physical Abuse
Despite our best efforts, abuse and misconduct may occur on your team. By responding to abuse and misconduct with compassion and attention—and being aware of processes and laws that guide reporting—you can lessen negative impacts and help youth athletes feel better and safer in and out of sport.
On this page, you’ll learn important considerations for disclosure response, reporting principles and obligations you may be subject to, and issues related to Retaliation to keep top of mind.
You can report abuse or misconduct to the U.S. Center for SafeSport here.
In responding to misconduct and abuse, advance preparation is important. These five considerations are important to keep at front of mind as you develop your abuse and misconduct response plan:
Be well versed in your organization’s policies: know what behavior to look for, how you are expected to respond, and where to report.
Discuss acceptable and unacceptable behavior with athletes at the start of each season, and periodically throughout, to hold athletes accountable for their behavior.
Respond quickly to prevent behaviors from escalating and harm from continuing.
Respond consistently to misconduct you learn about, because responding to some situations but not others erodes athlete confidence in the process and fosters further inappropriate behavior.
Consider the age and developmental level of those involved: acceptable behaviors, and appropriate responses to those behaviors, may vary.
Do not ignore abuse and misconduct or assume someone else is taking care of it. You must do something.
Report any known or suspected abuse and misconduct according to applicable laws and policies (see Reporting Misconduct for more information).
Put a stop to any Emotional and Physical Misconduct or other harmful behavior you notice. If you learn about such behaviors after the fact, be sure it has stopped or take action to stop it.
It can be hard to know what to say when someone tells you they have experienced misconduct or abuse. Listening with empathy and being supportive are the two most important principles to keep in mind as you respond, and our Responding to Abuse or Misconduct Disclosures handout includes some specific words and phrases you can use to respond to a disclosure. If you are a mandatory reporter, you must follow reporting requirements even if the survivor does not want the incident reported.
If the incident involved the team, revisit previously agreed-upon behavior expectations. Discuss the importance of bystander intervention. Be sure not to share details about any specific situation in these conversations.
Athlete Mental Health
Abuse and misconduct impact athlete mental health in short- and long-term ways. Everyone deals differently with experiences of abuse or misconduct, and everyone heals on their own timeline. Factors that affect how people respond include age, support system, cultural norms, other life events, and prior mental health and trauma experiences.
Check in with athletes if you know they have experienced abuse or misconduct, whether within or beyond their sport activity.
- Remind them of 24/7 support services such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
- If they seem depressed or suicidal, talk with them about how they are feeling and refer them to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
- Inform parents/guardians of minor athletes if you are worried about their mental health.
Use the Resources and Reporting Contacts handout to record resources in your community that can help you respond to situations, and share these resources with athletes who may have experienced abuse or misconduct.
If you are an Adult Participant under the SafeSport Code, you are required to both follow applicable state or federal laws and also report information about or reasonable suspicion of:
- Child Abuse, including child sexual abuse, immediately to law enforcement and the Center
- Sexual Misconduct regardless of age (including Sexual or Gender-Related Harassment, sexual Bullying behaviors, and sexualized Hazing acts) immediately to the Center, and also immediately to law enforcement if it involves child sexual abuse.
- Emotional and Physical Misconduct (including Bullying, Hazing, and Harassment) to your NGB or the Center
- Violations of proactive prevention policies (such as the Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policies) to your NGB
Under the Code, victims of child abuse or other misconduct are not required to self-report, but can choose to do so.
If you are not sure a situation needs to be reported, ask your organization or the relevant local authority--and when in doubt, report.
If you are not affiliated with the Movement, you may still be required to report known or suspected Child Abuse immediately to law enforcement. You must follow any other applicable state or federal laws.
Regardless of your reporting requirements: you should never investigate reports or try to determine if someone is telling the truth. Your role is to report what you observed or was told to you. Other people will take it from there.
Athletes (and their parents/guardians) are often afraid to report misconduct because they fear Retaliation from a coach, organization leaders, or peer athletes. Coaches may also fear Retaliation for reporting misconduct, especially if the report involves someone with power over them.
If you are affiliated with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement, you should know that Retaliation is prohibited by the SafeSport Code. Regardless of affiliation, your organization’s policies may also prohibit Retaliation.
Retaliation is taking (or threatening to take) any adverse action related to allegations of Prohibited Conduct before, during, or after a person's participation in the processes of the Center or any other relevant organization under the Center's jurisdiction.
An adverse action can include:
- Threatening, intimidating, or harassing someone
- Coercing someone to not report misconduct or to refuse to cooperate with an investigation
- Punishing or withholding opportunities from those who report misconduct
An administrator demotes a coach for participating in an investigation of a Hazing incident
When an athlete confronts a teammate about Bullying Behavior, the teammate threatens to ruin their reputation if they report what happened
The day after an athlete reports Physical Misconduct by a coach, the coach drops them from the team, saying “we don’t need any snitches around here”
- Further harm people who have experienced abuse and misconduct
- Deter witnesses or third parties with information important to a misconduct investigation
- Erode trust within the team and the larger organization
- Discourage others from reporting future misconduct
- Send the message that the behavior in question is acceptable
- Contribute to a culture that tolerates abuse and misconduct
Not all negative consequences of Retaliation come from within an organization. When reports become public, negative comments aimed at those who reported abuse or misconduct can be overwhelming and hurtful, reducing people's willingness to report misconduct in the future.
When you cover team behavioral expectations, be sure everyone on the team knows that Retaliation is unacceptable (and, if you’re in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement, prohibited by the SafeSport Code). By reinforcing that Retaliation will not be tolerated, you increase athlete trust in abuse and misconduct claim resolution processes.
If you know someone has reported misconduct, be alert to potential Retaliation from the individual reported, or their supporters.
Consider your own behavior toward people reporting misconduct or participating in investigations. Be sure you do not treat them worse than you had before, or differently from other athletes in similar scenarios.
If you learn about or suspect Retaliation, report the situation to the Center if you are an Adult Participant in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement. If you are outside of the Movement, follow your organization’s reporting policies.
Visit the below pages for resources and links to help you recognize, prevent, and respond to abuse and misconduct in your organization.