Tackling abuse against women and girls: the vital role that sports clubs & providers play

Tackling abuse against women and girls: the vital role that sports clubs & providers play

Posted: Wed, 22 Nov 2023 11:00

Please note: this blog contains sensitive and potentially distressing themes. If you are affected by the content, there is support available, and some links are listed at the end of the blog. Should you need any support, please do reach out or access the resources provided below.

Abuse against women and girls continues to be a shocking and pervasive human rights violation, which currently affects approximately one in three women around the world. We are now just days away from The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25th November, which marks the launch of the UNiTE campaign — an initiative of 16 days of activism concluding on the day that commemorates the International Human Rights Day (10 December).

Our local response to tackling abuse against women and girls

At Active Oxfordshire, we work extensively with sports clubs and partners across the county to help create safe, supportive sports environments. As part of the 16 days of activism, Jess Harrison from the Active Oxfordshire team will be running an Introduction to Abuse Awareness workshop on Monday 27th November which, is open to all sports clubs and sports providers in Oxfordshire.

In addition, we are excited to announce that there will be a new Safeguarding and Welfare Manager joining the team. This is a role which is new to all Active Partnerships in response to the various abuse scandals within sport over the last few years. The role will build on existing safeguarding processes and will help to develop inclusive and supportive sports environments across Oxfordshire. This role will help clubs to foster an environment which is trauma-aware, so that sports clubs can be a safe space for everyone, including those who have experienced abuse outside of sport.

Creating safe spaces – how trauma informed environments can transform lives

Shockingly, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 18 men have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult, and 1 in 6 children have been sexually abused. Abuse is an issue that is likely to have impacted someone in every sports club. This anonymous case study shows the impact that a trauma-informed and safe environment can have on retaining participants who are impacted by abuse.

"I have always been sporty and was involved in contact sports throughout my childhood and teen years. In 2007, I was sexually assaulted whilst staying at a friend's house after a night out. For a myriad of complicated reasons, I didn't report the assault to the police. Many people don't.

According to Rape Crisis, 5 in 6 women who are raped don't report it to the police – the same is true for 4 in 5 men. One of the reasons why this is the case is that the conviction rate for rape is shockingly low. Over 2021 and 2022, of the 70,330 total rapes reported to police, only 1,378 led to a conviction. This is a conviction rate of less than 2%.

At first, I just tried to get on with everything. I pretended that it didn't happen and found reasons to blame myself which helped me feel safe – if I could blame myself then I could do things to prevent it happening again. In reality, the only person to blame was the perpetrator who had chosen to act with a complete disregard for my welfare. There was no illusion of consent, there were no blurred lines.

I continued on at work and in my social life and I told myself I was fine.

It wasn't until one day during a rugby training session, we were doing a grappling drill where, in pairs, one person had to stop the other pair from getting off the ground. This was a drill I was good at and had always enjoyed, and I'd done it thousands of times before. Half-way through the exercise, I was hit with a vivid flashback taking me back to the moment of the sexual assault.

My coach, luckily, had completed a lot of mental health training at her work, so was able to ground me and calm me down. But after that moment, I found that lots of aspects of rugby triggered feelings of panic and anxiety within me. I would leave the pitch during games if I got overwhelmed, and I had to take a break from contact at training.

The coach and the club were incredibly supportive, and I was able to tell them what had happened. We came up with a plan so I could continue playing on my terms, and we saw it as any other injury. We worked up to reintroduce contact until I could play as I had before the assault.

I was incredibly lucky that my coach had the background that she did and that she was able to respond with such compassion and understanding. The club had such a non-judgmental and accepting feel, which allowed me to feel safe enough to share my experience. Unfortunately, I know that people who have had similar experiences haven't felt able to do so, and as a result, have dropped out of sport."

Sports clubs and coaches play such a vital role in the lives of their club members. They are trusted and relied upon, and can make a huge impact on the recovery of those who have experienced abuse. It isn't the role of the coach to be a counsellor or therapist, but if they have a basic understanding and knowledge of where to signpost people, this can make a big difference.

How can you support our mission to tackle violence against women and girls?

  • Sign up for the upcoming Introduction to Abuse Awareness workshop on Monday 27th November.
  • If you would like to work with our new Safeguarding and Welfare Manager, or are interested in how, as a coach or sports club provider, you can support survivors of abuse, please get in touch with Jess: JessicaHarrison@activeoxfordshire.org.
  • Join the global movement with the #NoExcuse slogan calling for urgent investments to prevent violence against women and girls.

For help and support, please visit:

Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre (osarcc.org.uk)

Rape Crisis

24/7 Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Line (247sexualabusesupport.org.uk)

Women's Aid

Bright Sky app | Hestia


Tags: Coaching, Girls, Inclusive Sport, Physical Activity, Sport, Trauma-Informed, Women, Youth Sport