Sexual Violence and the Role of Youth Sports

Sports play a significant role in the lives of many youth and adults in the U.S. As many as 80% of youth participate in sports at some point in their childhood or adolescence, including school sports or recreational sports leagues. Participating in sports generally have positive effects on youth, fostering healthy habits, self-esteem, team-building and leadership skills, discipline, work ethic, and accountability that translate to other aspects of life. Youth who participate in sports are less likely to abuse drugs, become pregnant, or drop out of school before graduation.

In terms of sexual violence, sports present both risks and opportunities. According to research compiled by Raliance, student-athletes are more likely to perpetrate rape and be more accepting of attitudes justifying rape. Sports culture can promote beliefs related to male entitlement, the value of dominance, and a lack of empathy. The media and entertainment unfortunately sometimes promote the damaging aspects of sports culture, and the promotion of athlete entitlement can accompany acceptance of sexually abusive behavior among adults and youth. On the other hand, sports also offer an ideal environment in which to engage youth in conversations and education about healthy relationships, consent, bystander intervention, and accountability. Many schools, youth sports leagues, the NCAA, and professional sports teams have begun implementing such programming.

Parents, coaches, schools, and sports leagues have a responsibility to prevent sexual assault and abuse, and to promote safety and respect among youth. For more information about how OAESV can help, please contact us at For additional information about child sexual abuse, visit our webpage.

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