Sexual Abuse by Athletic Coaches in Pennsylvania
Athletic coaching requires a special level of trust. The athlete must be able to rely on the coach to guide him or her through new physical territory, trusting in the coach’s knowledge and experience to help the athlete safely reach for the next level. Some coaches use that bond of trust to take advantage of the athletes in their care.
High-Profile Coach Sex Abuse Cases
In Pennsylvania, mention of sexual abuse by an athletic coach probably immediately brings to mind former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Unfortunately, the case was far from isolated. Though Sandusky commanded more media attention than most sexual abuse cases, several others have made the news since, in Pennsylvania and around the country.
Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Dennis Hastert was convicted of bank fraud in connection with bribes paid to cover up sexual abuse of students when he was a high school wrestling coach. A 2016 IndyStar-USA Today network investigation uncovered 368 reports of sexual abuse by gymnasts across a 20-year period. Often these abuses had been reported to gym management or owners, only to be ignored. Coaches were fired but not reported to law enforcement or blacklisted, leaving the door open to pick up at another gym with new victims.
Closer to home, a former Stroudsburg youth wrestling coach and martial arts instructor was arrested on more than 200 counts rape of a child, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, unlawful contact with a minor, indecent assault and corruption of minors.
These are just a few of the cases that have attracted significant media attention in recent years. Sadly, these high-profile cases represent only a fraction of the abuses occurring at the hands of trusted coaches. Studies by the Crimes Against Children Research Center suggest that 5% of boys and 20% of girls are victims of childhood sexual abuse. About 75% of this abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows well, such as a trusted coach, teacher, or step-parent.
Remedies for Victims of Sexual Abuse
Some cases of sexual abuse by a coach or other trusted adult are prosecuted criminally, while others are not. Criminal prosecution, if available, can be a cathartic experience for the victim and an important protective measure for society and possible future victims. However, seeing an abuser tried and convicted is not always sufficient to make a sexual abuse victim whole, and criminal prosecution is not always an option.
Filing a Lawsuit in Coach Sexual Abuse Cases
A victim of sexual abuse may file a civil suit against the abuser, and often against other entities responsible for the coach’s actions. For example, when a coach working for a private gym sexually abuses athletes at that gym, the gym itself may be liable to the victim. Suing the abusive coach and other responsible parties can have a variety of benefits for the victim, including:
- An opportunity to reclaim power by holding the abuser accountable, especially if criminal charges have not been filed or have been unsuccessful
- An opportunity to receive an official ruling holding the abuser legally responsible
- An opportunity to shine a light on the abuser’s actions, thus protecting young athletes who might have become future victims
- An opportunity to recover damages to compensate for harm to the victim, including costs of medical care and therapy
Statutes of Limitations in Sexual Abuse Cases
Pennsylvania lawmakers recognize that children and teenagers who have been sexually abused are often reluctant to come forward. Victims may be confused and intimidated, and may even have been threatened by the abuser. The legislature also recognizes that many victims of childhood sexual abuse do not recall those events until many years later. Thus, Pennsylvania law allows a victim who was a minor at the time the abuse occurred to file a civil suit for up to 12 years after his or her 18th birthday. In simpler terms, until age 30.
Consult a Sexual Abuse Attorney
If you or your child has been the victim of sexual abuse by a coach, you owe it to yourself to learn more about your rights and options. Taking a stand against sexual abuse can be beneficial psychologically as well as financially, and can help make the world a little safer for the next generation of athletes. The first step is simple: just schedule your free consultation.