Op-Ed: Child abuse in sport happens if grooming laws aren’t enforced

This op-ed was originally published in The New Daily, and can be found online here

Abusers will continue seeking to groom and abuse children without strict enforcement of mandatory reporting laws. Photo: AAP

The harrowing stories shared by the Four Corners program End Game reiterate what so many survivors and advocates already know to be true – without strict enforcement of mandatory reporting laws, abusers will continue seeking to groom and abuse children.

I would think that every single Australian that heard these stories of abuse that occurred overseas would be mortified to know that the same thing is happening here in our backyard and under the cover of one of our great loves – sport.

Whether it be on the field, in the pool or under lights, sport is an integral part of our identity as a nation and one that provides joy to millions of adults and children all year round.

Every week thousands of coaches, parents, volunteers and administrators work tirelessly to ensure that kids get the chance to compete in the sport they love.

In most instances, these are dedicated people who want to see young people in the community thrive and enjoy themselves.

Unfortunately, there will always be predators who seek to hijack these noble efforts for vile purposes.

Tragically for far too many Australian children, what should be the place where they live out dreams instilled by their sporting heroes and of success, becomes a nightmare of abuse and predatory behaviour.

It is naive and reckless for us to think that institutional abuse only exists within certain high-profile institutions.

We have seen many instances reported of high-profile Australian athletes calling out former coaches and administrators for abuse and how their subsequent claims were handled.

These instances of abuse span the sporting spectrum, from the Olympic all the way to the grassroots level.

Advocates know that abuse can occur in any organisational setting and if left unchecked and unchallenged, abusers will always seek to find a way to commit their offending.

No one wants to see the institutional failures of the 1960s and 1970s play out again in 2020. As a society, we have witnessed the devastation that occurs when institutions fail to properly act to prevent harm.

And while the days of blatant industrial institutional abuse that took place in the 20th century may have passed, one of the greatest threats to the protection of our children is polite complacency.

The benefits of sport are immeasurable. For many children, competing and having fun with their friends is the highlight of their week; a physical and emotional outlet that we must collectively ensure is protected.

We must be honest, vigilant and fearless when adhering to mandatory
reporting of abuse.

To every single coach, parent, administrator and supporter of junior sport, I say this: If you suspect abuse is occurring, speak up and act – because you might just know a child that needs your voice now more than ever.

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