Sexual abuse in sport  – Nassar and Volume 14 of the Royal Commission report– sports, recreational, arts, culture, community and hobby groups

In the week that saw Dr Larry Nassar, the Michigan State University and Olympic sports doctor sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing female gymnasts in the USA, it is timely to reflect on Volume 14 of the report of the Royal Commission (RC) which focuses on sports and recreational institutions.

The RC identified that there is a real challenge in ensuring child safety in sports and recreational institutions and this is due to the diverse nature of the sector – ranging from affiliated, grant maintained and well-funded, co-ordinated, well-regulated and managed institutions with compliance obligations to small informal not for profit voluntary and community groups and activities where there is a patent lack of policy, procedure, regulation and information.

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Appalling, dismal and catastrophic failures

Volume 16 of the Royal Commission’s (RC) final report focuses on religious organisations. It runs to 3 books, longer than any other volume in the report, and contains 58 recommendations. 7382 survivors (48.8% of those who contacted the RC) reported abuse, in 1691 religious institutions. This was more than in connection with any other type of organisation. There were 30 case studies which, amongst other issues, revealed that many religious leaders knew about allegations of abuse but failed to take any action. The failures of religious organisations are considered to be particularly troubling as a result of the significant part religion has played in the lives of many children. Many survivors reported that as a result of the abuse they had suffered a loss of faith as well as a loss of trust.

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Identification and disclosure of child abuse

Identifying child sexual abuse especially in an institutional setting is the first and often most important step in protecting children and preventing its re-occurrence.

It is not sufficient just to educate children to recognise behaviours that constitute sexual abuse, and instruct them to tell someone if they are abused. Instead, adults also need to be attuned to signs of harm in children and equipped to identify signs of possible sexual abuse. Adults and the wider community need to better understand the dynamics of sexual abuse and how to recognise grooming tactics, and to notice emotional and behavioural changes in children.

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Impacts of child sexual abuse: the ripple effect

Volume 3 of the final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the RC) considers and explains the impacts of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts on survivors and often on their family members, friends, and entire communities.

The impacts of child sexual abuse are different for each survivor, for many it can have deep rooted and lasting impacts while others do not feel that they have been profoundly harmed by the experience.

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Survivors, perpetrators and statistics

Continuing our series of blogs commenting upon the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the RC) this blog considers by reference to numbers and statistics the information obtained about survivors and perpetrators.

The survivors

At the time of issuing its final report the Royal Commission (RC) had spoken with more than 8,000 survivors in private sessions and received more than 1,000 written accounts.

In compiling its final report, it analysed the experiences of the 6,875 survivors as told to them in private sessions up until 31 May 2017.

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Royal Commission – Out-of-home care

The Royal Commission’s (RC) final report includes a volume specifically dealing with institutional responses to child sexual abuse in contemporary (post 1990) out-of-home care.

The out-of-home system in Australia is similar to the UK in that when a child is considered to be unsafe living with their family or in an informal care arrangement, they are placed with alternative carers on a short or long term basis. These placements usually occur after there has been some statutory intervention.

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Support Services for survivors

As reported last week the Royal Commission has published its final and lengthy report. It covers many subjects, themes and organisations and in the next few weeks there will be further commentary on this blog about some of those topics and crucially the recommendations made.

One theme which has run through the work of the Royal Commission has been that of redress. Two years ago a redress scheme was recommended and it has now, in an amended version, been approved in principle to take effect from 1 July 2018. Redress means many different things to different people. As Lambeth Borough Council sought yesterday, amid some confrontation, to approve a scheme which seeks to make the path to redress simpler, it is clear that it is by no means straightforward to achieve. Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (SOSA) retweeted a range of negative comments about the scheme which had taken over a year to draft and had had significant input into it from SOSA itself and its legal team. Yet it still remained the subject of damning criticism from some.

One issue which will always be a challenge is how to assess a monetary value in compensation for the abuse and its consequences. The Royal Commission recommended a scheme with maximum payments of A$200,000 (£114,760); the Australian Government Scheme implementing the Royal Commission recommendations will award up to a maximum of A$150,000 (£86,070); the Lambeth Scheme has a maximum payment of £125,000; the Northern Ireland recommendations which have made no progress since being published in January 2017 were for payments of up to £100,000. These are maximum payments for the most severe abuse. These may or may not be life changing sums of money, for some whatever the sum it is the recognition of the harm done which is what the money represents and for others no sum however big or small will compensate for what happened and what the consequences of the abuse have been. No matter what approach an organisation takes in assessing a monetary value for redress it is likely it will not be considered right by all victims and survivors. Making that assessment can be very difficult for all involved and a clear and easy formula for making a fair assessment which could be understood and applied by all is needed and remains elusive.

The Royal Commission’s 2015 report concluded that redress should include not just monetary payments but also a direct personal response as well as counselling and psychological care. The final report has expanded the response to victims and survivors to include the provision of a much wider, integrated and cohesive range of support services. Those recommendations include that there be a dedicated system of community-based support services which provides advocacy and support, including counselling and case management. The creation of a national service to assist victims and survivors understand the legal options and navigate the legal system is proposed, along with a national telephone helpline and website to provide information and assistance. The national service should, the Royal Commission concludes, be funded by the Australian Government and provide advice including about accessing, amending and annotating records and options for initiating police, civil litigation or redress processes. It will be interesting to see which of these recommendations are effected and which will be similarly recommended by the inquiries in England and Wales and Scotland when they in due course report on redress and support for survivors.


Written by Paula Jefferson, partner and head of abuse and neglect at BLM.