November 2016


If sport is to take one lesson from the 2013 - 2017 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse it is that there is no single profile of a typical victim or perpetrator. However, there are trends to be learnt from and systems that institutions, such as clubs and associations, can put in place to better identify risks and protect children.


While some children are more vulnerable to abuse based on factors including age, gender, ethnicity, disability and prior abuse or neglect, some may also be more vulnerable because of situational factors such as extensive periods of unsupervised contact with adults via long hours of training, close physical contact and travelling in vehicles with adults on a regular basis.


Children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable because they are often segregated to varying degrees.


In these instances, children have little or no control over who they interact with, and internal cultures of obedience and silence make it risky for children to both defend themselves from perpetrators and/or raise an alarm if abuse occurs.


There are certain aspects of sport that can provide the potential for abusive situations, particularly given the close and personal interaction often found between coaches and participants, competition travel interstate and abroad, and participants being conditioned to follow the coach’s direction.


The Royal Commission’s interim report suggests that to prevent child sexual abuse, it may be more effective to address risk factors common to sport and focus on creating safe environments rather than profile likely offenders. For example, in many instances Working with Children Checks, reference checking and child safe procedures could have prevented abuse that has occured.


The Commission found that opportunistic perpetrators are less likely to commit abuse where organisational controls are in place as preventers and deterrents. These may include rules that a coach, official or administrator should not be alone with a single child.


Situational perpetrators who react to cues or environmental triggers may have their tendencies curbed by codes of conduct that clearly identify types of unacceptable behaviour, these rules are effectively enforced and organisations clearly state that they will report abuse to authorities without delay.


The Rugby Football Union of the United Kingdom has developed a comprehensive policy on safeguarding children, which starts with stating that a ‘safe environment is one where the possibility of abuse is openly acknowledged; volunteers and employees are vetted and trained; and those who report suspicions and concerns are confident that these will be treated seriously and confidentially’.


The policy provides advice on:

  • communication processes, including handling messages, emails and texts and providing forums for discussions
  • recruitment
  • training
  • supervision
  • adult/child ratios
  • competition and touring arrangements
  • clear reporting procedures and channels of communication.

Salecombe Rugby has developed a comprehensive brochure based on the policy, which can be found here.


In Australia, Educational Edicts has developed the SoSAFE! Program designed to promote social safety for people with moderate to severe intellectual disability. SoSAFE! provides visual tools and lesson materials to teach the type and degree of communicative and physical intimacy appropriate with different groups of people in an individual’s life. 


Play by the Rules also offers suggested templates and policies on reporting child abuse, with our information sheets.