Ongoing testimony of sickening abuse of U.S. Olympic gymnasts by an organization doctor has led to demands for significant change in sports organizations. Collegiate-level sports organizations should take heed, especially as a new study by the non-profit Lauren’s Kids revealed 1 in 4 current and former college athletes surveyed reported experiencing sexual assault or sexual harassment by someone on campus who was in a position of power. That is compared to 1 in 10 in the general student population.
In other words, college athletes were 2.5 times more likely to encounter sexual abuse than their peers.
Coaches, it was indicated, were the most commonly-identified group of abusers.
USA Today reported this fact with a number of anecdotes from high-profile cases in recent years. Among those:
- Hundreds of student athletes at the University of Michigan who were reportedly sexually assaulted in the 1980s by an athletic doctor at the university, who is now deceased. Several of those athletes, now suing the university for failure to protect them, said they felt trapped and weren’t fully aware that what was happening was abuse (as opposed to somehow being their fault). As our Palm Beach sexual assault lawyers know, this is common among victims of this type of abuse. To this day, they say that abuse impacts their marriages and their health (as they are reticent to seek medical care).
- Hundreds of Ohio State University male students who were allegedly abused in the 1990s by the school’s athletic doctor. The students, former athletes in football, basketball, cheerleading, soccer, gymnastics, fencing, lacrosse, and baseball, were reportedly abused when they received treatment at the student health center. The school has settled with 185 plaintiffs for an estimated $47 million connected to those allegations.
- A prominent track and field coach who worked with – and allegedly sexually abused – high school and college athletes in Texas, California, and Arkansas. Lawsuits filed against the NCAA accused the organization of failing to protect them from a predatory coach.
- Former Penn State football coach who was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse involving 10 boys through his youth charity. Penn State University has paid nearly $110 million to settle civil claims filed against the university by 35 people.
Many of the athletes interviewed say they feared that speaking up would jeopardize their scholarships and athletic future. The Lauren’s Kids survey involved some 800 adults currently under age 45 who previously attended public or private universities.
In addition to athletes, the survey found that members of campus clubs and organizations were also twice as likely to suffer sexual abuse from authority figures. Very few of those reported that abuse, either.
As longtime Palm Beach sexual assault lawyers, we recognize that it’s incredibly difficult for abuse victims to come forward. But even when there is no justice to be had in the criminal system, the civil system can be a means of accountability, compensation, and real change.
Universities have their own police departments, their own health departments, and their own boards of accountability. Civil litigation can help even the playing field, bring so much to light, and compel schools, organizations, and others responsible for protecting students to admit their shortcomings. Civil claims can be the vessel to ensure improved student safety protocols, in addition to compensating those students who’ve been failed. No person should have to suffer sexual abuse in silence.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
1 in 4 college athletes say they experienced sexual abuse from an authority figure, survey finds, Aug. 26, 2021, By N’dea Yancey-Bragg, USA Today
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What Kind of Attorney Do I Hire in a Florida Sexual Assault Civil Case? Aug. 30, 2021, Palm Beach Sexual Abuse Lawyer Blog