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Sexual Abuse of Student Athletes: Fight Back

Even more than other students in high school or college, student athletes are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. Coaches, trainers, and athletic directions have all been involved in abuse scandals. Many student athletes don’t know what to do. Most are probably relying on athletic scholarships to pay for tuition, so they fear getting kicked off the team if they complain.

Sexual abuse of student athletes is a serious problem in this country, but there are ways vulnerable athletes can fight back. Call Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys today to speak with a sexual assault lawyer. You might be able to sue your abuser, the school, or both for financial compensation.

How Big a Problem is Sexual Abuse of Student Athletes?

These stories regularly make the newspaper and evening news. For example, San Jose State University agreed in 2021 to pay $1.6 million to 23 student-athletes who were inappropriately touched by a trainer. And in April 2024, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County agreed to pay $4.14 to several members of the school’s swim teams for abuse and discrimination committed by the former head coach. These stories represent only the tip of the iceberg.

Sexual abuse can also happen as part of “hazing” rituals, where athletes are humiliated as part of a “bonding” exercise with teammates. Hazing rituals often involved alcohol or drugs and embarrassing activity. Some hazing crosses the line into sexual assault.

USA Today reported on a digital survey taken of student athletes by the nonprofit Lauren’s Kids. The survey found a high percentage of athletes who had been sexually abused or harassed. About 1 in 4 had reported assault or harassment to school authorities. This number does not include those who were too afraid to speak out, so the number of victims is likely higher. The most common abuser was a coach.

A large number of student-athletes also reported feeling “pressure” to not report, principally because they feared a loss of scholarship. College is expensive, and without a scholarship some student-athletes would drop out.

Anyone can be abused. Both male and female student athletes have suffered sexual assault at the hands of authority figures who are the same or a different sex. Your abuser might even be someone like a graduate assistant or team volunteer. It could even be another student athlete.

Your Legal Rights

Sexual assault is any unwanted touching of a sexual nature. It includes unwanted kissing, groping, and molestation. Sexual assault includes rape but can include any type of nonpenetrative sexual touching. Sexual assault can also include any “consensual” activity where the victim is underage and/or abused by a person in a position of power.

Sexual assault is illegal, and you should report the crime to the police. Some victims fear their school will protect the abuser. This is a reasonable fear. Certainly, many victims have been bullied by administrators to keep silent, or they’ve lost their scholarship. If the abuser is a prominent coach, then the administration might take the coach’s word over yours. Nonetheless, putting the school on notice matters legally. A school can’t ignore credible accusations about abuse.

Sexual assault is also a civil wrong, called an “intentional tort.” Any victim can seek financial compensation from their abuser in a personal injury lawsuit. This type of claim won’t result in your abuser going to jail, but compensation provides some measure of accountability. You should also receive compensation for the bodily and emotional injuries you suffered.

Your School’s Liability

In some situations, your school will also be legally liable for the abuse. They need to act reasonably when hiring and supervising employees. For example, your school might share liability for the sexual abuse if:

  • The school failed to perform a reasonable background check or ignored complaints of abuse at an applicant’s prior job.
  • The school did not investigate prior complaints of sexual assault.
  • Your school retaliated against you for complaining about sexual abuse.
  • Coaches or other employees observed sexual assault but said nothing.

Abusers rarely assault only once. They tend to have dozens of victims over the years. A school cannot turn a blind eye to allegations of misconduct. Unfortunately, we have seen schools do just that—particularly if the abuser is a prominent member of the athletic department like a head coach or athletic director.

Our Sexual Assault Attorney Can Help

Bringing a sexual assault claim against a coach, trainer, or school is daunting. Many people are afraid to speak up because they don’t know what evidence they need. Let us help.

We have sought financial compensation for many assault victims. We can work closely with you to:

  • Understand the abuse, including when and where it happened;
  • Find possible supporting evidence, including witnesses or other abuse victims;
  • Report the abuse to the proper channels, if you have not already done so;
  • Document hospital visits and mental health counseling related to the abuse;
  • Talk with family and friends to better understand how the abuse has affected you.

We offer a confidential consultation where you can discuss your experience freely. We understand abuse of this kind is traumatic for many. We provide a safe space for victims to open up about their assault and how it has affected them.

Ideally, we give the school or abuser a chance to settle the legal claim. This provides financial compensation without a trial. Negotiation is critical, because defendants are rarely willing to admit liability for sexual assault.

Rest assured; we will file a lawsuit, if necessary, to protect your rights. Sexual assault has a statute of limitations, which is the maximum amount of time you have to file. Please contact our law firm as soon as possible.

Work with Our Sexual Assault Lawyer

Too many schools ignore allegations of sexual assault. They sweep the problem under the rug and automatically believe the denials from coaches, trainers, and others. Student-athletes either drop out of school or struggle through. It’s time to put a stop to this exploitation.

Call Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys today to schedule a confidential, no-cost consultation, (404) 529-3476.

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