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Warning Signs of Abuse or Neglect in Sports

Warning signs of possible sexual abuse:

  • Sexually-transmitted diseases
  • Genital injuries, perhaps suggested by bloody underwear
  • Pregnancy
  • Trouble sitting or walking
  • Child suddenly does not want to change for gym or practice
  • Fear of washrooms, locker rooms, or closed doors, or fear of being alone with adults of a certain sex
  • Nightmares and/or bedwetting
  • Child attaches quickly to new adults they come into contact with
  • Knowledge of sexual relations or sexual behavior outside of what is reasonable for a child's age
  • Sexual abuse of other children and/or sudden interest in sex disproportionate for a child's age
    • It is important to note that sexualized behavior in children is the result of sexual abuse, not its cause
  • Quitting the team or being reluctant to return to the sports activity
  • Sleep disorders
  • Changes in appetite
  • Running away
  • Reluctance to talk
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Falling grades

Warnings signs of possible neglect (in an athletic context):

  • Poorly maintained or unsafe equipment
  • Evidence of unsupervised overnight trips; for example, athletes tell stories of going off by themselves for an inappropriate reason, amount of time, etc.
  • Injuries that are left untreated, or exacerbated by repeated use without time to heal

Charlotte Wilinsky is an intern at MomsTEAM and a graduate student in the community social psychology master's program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Her research interests include child maltreatment, especially abuse and neglect, and psychology and law.  She earned her B.A. with honors in psychology from Amherst College, where she was a member of the women's tennis team.