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Weekly Edition - Publication date:- 2017-22-07

-en Southport & Mersey Reporter

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Merseyside University teams up with charity to help tackle abuse in sport

A Merseyside University and a national charity have joined forces with European partners in a unique research project to help tackle child sexual exploitation in sport across the continent. Edge Hill University is partnering with the charity, the National Working Group (NWG), in the VOICE project which aims to raise awareness of sexual abuse in sport and produce a consistent approach to identifying and tackling it. The research comes at a time of widespread publicity over child sexual abuse in football, along with an increase in the number of victims coming forward with allegations of non recent abuse in sport.  Edge Hill, which over the past 15 years has become a research specialist centre in child maltreatment in sport, is leading the UK research with partnership from NWG and UK Coaching.

The 2 year VOICE project, funded with a near ₤500,000 EU grant from the Erasmus+ Programme 2015, is the brainchild of Dr Mike Hartill, Reader in the sociology of sport at Edge Hill, who is also helping the current FA inquiry into sex abuse allegations in football.  Edge Hill has joined with Universities in:- Germany, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Austria and Slovenia to generate crucial and powerful research data on sexual violence in sport by recording evidence from those affected by it.

The victims' recorded accounts are central to the VOICE project and will help sports organisations to develop a deeper understanding of the problem and an opportunity to prevent it within their own areas.  The project steering committee includes Spain's former Olympic gymnast Gloria Viseras who has previously spoken out about her childhood experiences of sexual abuse within sport. "Our aim through the interviews has been to collect in depth life histories and use them to develop authentic, practical educational resources. These can then be used by sports organisations, clubs, coaches and volunteers to raise awareness about sexual violence and exploitation. The scale of the project also means that we can get out consistent messages to the sports community beyond the UK." said Dr Hartill.

NWG, which is at the heart of the UK's response to child sexual exploitation (CSE) and trafficking, is supporting individual victims who have been part of the VOICE project, as well as offering its wider experience and consistency in dealing with the issue. Kevin Murphy, NWG's Response Unit lead on CSE in sport, said abuse in sport needs tackling at a lot of different levels but it is important to make people aware of how it happens; and not for people to just deny that it happens. "Awareness needs to be all the way down from national level, local level right down to those who play sport in the park..." said Mr Murphy.  All European partner countries have held seminars giving abuse victims the chance to talk to audiences of sports sector professionals about how they suffered; as well as how it was dealt with. The UK event, organised by NWG, was held in Nottingham and among the responses from the speakers was:- "The experience has actually helped me change and develop."

Dr Hartill said victims' experiences in sport have not previously been sufficiently included in abuse prevention policies and education strategies. "We need to hear much more about the realities of abuse and ensure victims' stories are not whitewashed from the picture. Those professionals attending the VOICE seminars and forums learnt more about child sexual abuse in those few hours than they have from their normal training. The personal stories they heard will stay with them forever because they were so powerful and effective."

The next step in the VOICE project, which finishes in June 2018, is to develop educational resources which potentially will include:- audio visual material, film, animation and booklets. "We're particularly keen on reaching a younger audience, and the resources will also be aimed at sports specialists, the professionals and their organisations. We want to bring some of the reality of these experiences into the public domain." said Dr Hartill.

The project is also aimed at others who are struggling to cope with their own experiences, especially those that may not recognise that they are being subjected to sexual exploitation.  He says sports bodies had in the past shied away from acknowledging sexual violence in sport, and had not been proactive in working with the survivors of that abuse. The VOICE project was changing that by prioritising the views and personal histories of survivors. NWG's Kevin Murphy said it was important having people trained and competent in recognising what abuse in sport is. Murphy added:- "It is all about having an open and honest culture so if something isn't right it is easily identifiable. A lot of the children themselves won't tell, so it is all about the coaches and parents being aware of the signs."

Mr Murphy said abuse in sport often had a long term effect on individuals who might bottle it up and then, 10 to 15 years later when it finally comes out, experience an outpouring of grief and emotion.  The culture of sport can often be part of the problem because it is not always conducive to speaking out about problems; coupled with the extreme sensitivity and stigma attached to sexual victimisation. Murphy commented:- "We ask ourselves what damage that abuse has done to the person through that time and how it has affected their lives and their ability to participate in sport or society...  It can be like dropping a penny in a puddle; the ripple effect can reverberate very wide for generations."

 

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