We’re a very sports-oriented culture. Whether it’s watching professional sports on tv or participating in school sports; our children are exposed to sports early on. Parents have many options for their children to excel in a specific sport. Day camps, overnight camps, clinics and lessons are available all year round for almost all youth sports. Parents however, need to be aware of the rampant child sexual abuse that occurs in youth sports, which can be committed by any adult who works with children, including coaches, assistants, volunteers, trainers, medical staff, and gym or facility owners. The abuse can also come from other children. Often times this is done through bullying and/or hazing that adults running the program are fully aware oftentimes.
Sadly, in recent years, we have seen an explosion in the number of cases across the country. The numbers of criminal cases and civil lawsuits have risen drastically in the last 5 to 10 years. Bringing these kinds of lawsuits for our clients, we see that no industry, no profession, is safe. Child sex abuse can and does occur in practically every situation.
Recently, there has been a large scale investigation into gymnastics in the U.S. Over 300 people, the majority of them women, have reported being sexually abused as a child by a coach, gym owner or other adult associated with a gym. The allegations span the course of decades and involve reports of a cover up by the national gymnastics governing body. Investigation shows that abusers were allowed to move quietly from gym to gym.
In addition, there was the Penn State Jerry Sandusky case in Pennsylvania. Sandusky, a former member of the coaching staff at Penn State, was convicted of sexually abusing young boys over a period of decades. He was given access to the sports facilities at the college where at least one act of rape in the 1990s was witnessed by a school employee who reportedly told his supervisors. However, the reports were effectively swept under the rug, and Sandusky claimed additional victims through his nonprofit organization for at-risk youth.
The allegations in the gymnastics child sex abuse investigation mirror the epidemic of sex abuse in large institutions like schools or religious institutions like the Catholic Church, where large numbers of priests have been accused of abusing children while church officials turned a blind eye, or in the most egregious cases, actively suppressed reports of abuse. Many of the case have been validated across the country. In Pennsylvania alone, there have been multiple grand jury investigations into allegations of widespread abuse, hundreds of children across the state abused by dozens of priests. Dozens of lawsuits have followed.
The reality is that child sex abuse occurs in sports, just as often as it does in churches or schools. It’s only now getting media attention, and as a result, we can certainly expect to see more cases emerge in the future.
Victims have rights in both the criminal and civil justice systems, which are entirely separate and distinct from one another. Criminal case and civil lawsuits can be filed independently of each other. For instance, even if a criminal case fails, a civil lawsuit can still be successful.
Oftentimes, victims of sex abuse believe that their only recourse is to file a criminal complaint. This is entirely untrue. Victims of sex abuse have civil legal rights against both the perpetrators of the abuse, as well as any entity which allowed the abuse to occur, either through negligence or intentional misconduct.
Negligence is usually defined as the failure to do something you should do. In the context of a child sex abuse case in sports, this usually involves failing to investigate a report of abuse or failing to train employees on protocol for handling reports of abuse. Negligence is also defined as doing something you should not do. Here are two examples of this kind of negligence in the context of a child sex abuse case involving sports: 1. forcing a coach to “retire” after reports of sex abuse, and 2. handling a report “in-house” and failing to contact law enforcement when required to do so under state or federal law.
Intentional misconduct is generally defined as taking actions that show a conscious or willful disregard for the rights and safety of another person. In sports sex abuse cases, this means doing things like “passing the trash,” i.e., giving good recommendations to a suspected abuser so the abuser can get a job elsewhere. It also involves doing things like strong-arming a victim or the victim’s parents into silence. For example, a child who shows real promise in baseball attends a camp where he is molested by an assistant coach. The parents, who are immigrants, confront the camp owner who threatens the parents with deportation if they file criminal charges. When the evidence shows that a sports facility engaged in this type of conduct, it can be held liable for punitive damages.
In sports abuse cases, a coach, gym, camp, etc. can be held liable in a civil lawsuit. If the evidence shows that an employee knew or otherwise should have known about the abuse but failed to take appropriate, reasonable action, the employer can be liable.
Individuals who file civil lawsuits in any child sex abuse case, including those that occur at sports facilities, have the right to ask a court to award financial compensation for any economic losses and pain and suffering. Economic losses include medical or psychological treatment bills.
Pain and suffering is the mental and emotional harm caused by the abuse. Children who are sexually abused often exhibit a wide range of mental and emotional harm, depending on the extent and length of the abuse. In many cases, the effects are felt well into adulthood. There is no magic formula to determine a financial compensation award for pain and suffering. Each case varies and depends on the evidence.
In many instances, these types of lawsuits can result in significant, positive change in the organization. A victim can demand a public apology or the implementation of procedures and protocols to prevent future abuse. For instance, a settlement agreement may require the sports facility to implement protocols for the reporting of acts of abuse and also provide mandatory training for all employees.
Related Child Sex Abuse Case Result: 6 figure recovery for a man who was sexually molested as a child by a judge. The criminal statute of limitations had expired, meaning the judge could not be prosecuted. However, a civil lawsuit against the judge resulted in a written admission of the abuse, resignation from the bench and subsequent disbarment. See Kelly v. Bradley (Case# 1:09-ev-00282-LDD).
Laffey, Bucci & Kent’s experienced attorneys are passionate about helping victims of sex abuse and assault. Our lawyers are rated as top lawyers in the field of personal injury.
Firm partner Brian Kent is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor who has been featured in local and national news about his expertise in the area of child molestation and sex abuse. Our law firm handles cases nationwide. Call for a free consultation.
Yes, survivors of physical or sexual abuse by coaches or other individuals associated with youth sports organizations can take legal action against the responsible parties and the organizations that employed or supervised them. Youth sports organizations have a duty to protect the children participating in their programs, and when they fail to do so, they may be held liable for damages.
If you or your child has been a victim of abuse within a youth sports organization, it is essential to take the following steps:
In a youth sports organization abuse case, survivors may be eligible to recover various types of damages, including:
The attorneys at Laffey, Bucci & Kent have extensive experience representing survivors of abuse in youth sports organizations. As former prosecutors, our team has a unique understanding of the legal and procedural issues involved in these cases. We can help you:
With a national presence and a team of dedicated attorneys, Laffey, Bucci & Kent is prepared to advocate for your rights and help you achieve the best possible outcome in your youth sports organization abuse case.
“Blessed” Brian was the defender I needed for my case.