Boyhood sexual abuse in sport

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


    According to recent meta-research ‘up to 5% of boys are exposed to penetrative sexual abuse, and up to three times this number are exposed to any type of sexual abuse’ (Gilbert et al., 2009: 68). However, the authors argue this is probably a conservative estimate because of under-reporting. The vast majority of research into sexual abuse in sports-related contexts has focused on the sexual exploitation of female athletes by male authority figures; Brackenridge (2001: 77) states ‘we know very little about boys’ experiences of sexual exploitation in sport’.

    In attempting to address this issue I have conducted narrative research with four men who were sexually abused during boyhood in a sport-related context. The broader aim of my research is to develop a fuller theoretical account of the sexual abuse of male children within sport. My objective here, as opposed to attempting to model ‘dynamics’ and ‘effects’ (see Spiegel, 2003), is to consider the ways in which these men reflect on and narrate their experiences of abuse. As Bruner (1987: 15) argues, ‘one important way of characterizing a culture is by the narrative models it makes available for describing the course of a life.’ This paper considers their stories, not as unproblematic factual accounts, but rather as stories individually constructed and told through, and in relation to, cultural narrative frameworks.

    I draw from these stories two distinct narratives of ‘male childhood sexual abuse’ in sport. I suggest that whilst there are some recent signs that male athlete ‘survivors’ may be more willing to disclose their abuse, the ‘abuse in sport’ narrative is prescriptive and in fact reinforces the ‘dome of silence’ (Kirby et al., 2000) excluding many ‘survivor’ voices. In other words, within contemporary male sports culture, still coming to terms with a child protection agenda, some stories of sexual subjection may be more legitimate than others. I conclude by arguing that this may tell us much about the contemporary culture of male-sport, the risks it presents for boys and the silence that surrounds their sexual subjection.
    Period9 Mar 201111 Mar 2011
    Event titleFuture Perspectives on Intervention, Policy and Research on Men and Masculinities
    Event typeConference
    LocationQuebec, Canada, QuebecShow on map
    Degree of RecognitionInternational


    • sexual abuse
    • boys
    • sport