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Sexual Abuse of Boys in Sports: Does The Sports Culture Itself Play A Role?

Treating children as commodities

The use of punitive measures in the training/coaching of boys is commonplace within many, if not all, sport, which all too often fail to look at what is best for the child. Instead of being child-centered, youth sports is adult-centered with adults treating children as objects or tools in the pursuit of their own ends and with little regard for the long-term well-being of the child.

The treatment of children as commodities is as rampant in organized sport as any other field of social practice. Corporate enterprise shows little sign of reducing its interest in sport in general and in individual athletes touted as the next LeBron James, Tiger Woods or Hope Solo. In the process the tendency is to ignore or trivialize the welfare of children. 

A few rotten apples or the entire culture?

The vast majority of prevention and intervention programs focus on sexual abuse by males on females. Given the dominant importance of masculinity in male sport, it is not surprising that many within sport (as well as beyond sport) do not even believe that boys are sexually abused in sports — at least not real (sport-) boys.

While some sport organizations and bodies across the world have accepted that a "few bad apples" may have infiltrated the ranks of sport in order to abuse children, widespread recognition and acceptance of the fact that it is often the very fabric and milieu of organized sport that constitutes part of the problem seems some way off. 

Editor's Note: This article is a summary of the journal article: Hartill, M., "The sexual abuse of boys in organized male-sports." Men and Masculinities (February 2008). To order a copy of the complete article, go to http://jmm.sagepub.com

Mike Hartill is a lecturer in the Department of Sport and Physical Activity at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, Lancashire, England, and has written frequently on sexual abuse of boys in sports. He can be reached at hartillm@edgehill.ac.uk. He is particularly interested in hearing from men who may have experienced sexual abuse in sport. Follow on Twitter: @Mikehartill1  

Most recently revised June 8, 2015. Recently updated April 2, 2017.