Sexual Abuse in Sports Especially Against Student-Athletes

December 15, 2023 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Sexual Abuse in Sports Especially Against Student-Athletes

It's hard to pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV, or scroll through a social media feed without seeing another sexual abuse scandal. While this horrible activity can occur in many different situations, sexual abuse in sports is appearing in headlines more often as more student and professional athletes come forward with their experiences.

Sexual abuse of student-athletes has been prevalent in the media in recent years, but, unfortunately, this behavior has been part of the landscape of high school and college sports for much longer.

Sadly, sexual abuse in sports has often gone unreported for decades for a variety of reasons. Some athletes face the fear of retaliation, fear of losing a scholarship, or fear that they were responsible or somehow “invited” the abuse.

Disturbingly, many coaches and others have turned a blind eye to the abuse or looked the other way in order to protect a colleague, the athletic program, or the school.

Research Finds 25% of Student Athletes Have Been Sexually Abused

In August 2021, Lauren's Kids, a nonprofit group that seeks to educate parents and kids about sexual behavior and sexual violence, commissioned a study. The research found that more than one in four current or former student-athletes surveyed have been "sexually assaulted or harassed by someone in a position of power on campus." This figure is extremely high compared to the general population, where one in ten students has reported being assaulted or harassed.

Keep in mind that one in four student-athletes reported the abuse to campus administrators. More sexual abuse situations were likely unreported, as is common in these cases. Nearly half of those who did report the abuse said they were afraid the perpetrator would retaliate against them.

Almost 40% of student-athletes said they felt pressured not to report because they were afraid of losing their scholarship or doubted that the abuse was bad enough to warrant reporting.  The study also found that student-athletes were two-and-a-half times more likely than non-student-athletes to say they experienced abuse.  Coaches were the group most identified to be the abusers.

One Example: Sexual Abuse in Sports at the University of Michigan

From the late 1960s to the early 2000s, Dr. Robert Anderson, a now-deceased (2008) athletic doctor at the University of Michigan, sexually abused over twelve hundred student-athletes. The university was placed on notice of complaints several times while the doctor retained his position at the university.

Due to the ongoing federal court mediation over a settlement with survivors and increasing survivor protests, this scandal has finally attracted national attention over the last few years.

In March 2020, the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan commissioned an independent investigative report by a Washington, D.C.-based law firm.  This report was released in May 2021 and detailed the many decades of sexual abuse by Anderson and the failings of staff who missed many opportunities to stop Anderson over his 37-year career.

Several of those student-athletes sued the university for failure to protect them. The complaints claimed the students felt trapped and were not fully aware that what was happening to them was abuse. The athletes were scared that no one would believe them if they came forward.

The university settled this lawsuit in September 2022 by paying $490 million dollars to the victims of Dr. Anderson's sexual abuse. One thousand fifty abuse survivors will share this settlement. The majority of the accusing athletes are men. The accusations against Dr. Anderson related back as far as the late 1960s.

This Was Not the First Sexual Abuse in Sports Lawsuit in Michigan

Allowing the abuse claims to proceed against Dr. Anderson was the second time since 2018 that the state of Michigan retroactively opened a statute of limitations window for lawsuits to proceed if abuse occurred under the guise of medical treatment. Similar legislation was adopted in Michigan after the conviction of Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State University and women's national gymnastics team physician, for molesting hundreds of women athletes.

There is no “single” reason survivors of sexual abuse decide to confront their abusers and/or the people or entities that enabled the abuse in court. Some abuse survivors seek closure, while others pursue justice. Many also want to help prevent their sexual abuser from harming others.

According to advocates for sexual abuse survivors, it is common for survivors to wait years, even decades, to reveal their sexual abuse stories. Coming to terms with the abuse and telling someone else about it often means overcoming emotional barriers and reliving extremely painful memories.

Sexual Abuse Statutes of Limitations Have Created a Barrier

Historically, the long and difficult process of stepping forward with allegations of sexual abuse has often taken longer than the criminal and civil statute of limitations allows for bringing abusers to justice. In other words, when survivors are finally ready and able to disclose what happened, they often find their paths blocked by the law such that they cannot seek accountability through the court system.

Fortunately, legislators have started taking a more compassionate and realistic view of the trauma of sexual abuse and have begun working to pass legislation that expands statutes of limitation for sexual abuse crimes and civil cases. Some new laws even allow the court to “revive” cases that have otherwise expired under existing limitations rules.

Legal protections of student-athletes rights have improved over the years.  Since 2001, clear interpretations of Title IX's sexual harassment provisions have been disseminated.  These legal protections have resulted in more court cases clarifying or upholding victims' rights when they have faced sexual abuse in sports.

More States are Expanding the Time to File Criminal Sexual Abuse Cases

The child advocacy organization ChildUSA reports that an increasing number of states have taken steps to enable prosecutors to bring criminal charges against abusers who perpetrated their crimes decades ago. Many of these states have also made it easier for survivors to seek justice not only against the perpetrators of abuse but also against institutions and entities that facilitated or hid it.

These long-overdue revisions to sexual abuse laws give prosecutors and survivors powerful new tools to combat sexual misconduct and to pursue accountability. The easing of statutes of limitations on civil suits and the “revival” of some cases are especially significant because many instances of sexual abuse occurred so long ago that it is often difficult for criminal prosecutors to meet the burden of proof and prove those crimes “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In contrast, the burden of proof for survivors who are seeking monetary compensation and other forms of relief is typically less difficult to meet. So, even if a prosecutor cannot prove a crime occurred, survivors may still win a civil judgment against the abuser.

Because the state laws on criminal and civil statutes of limitation for sexual abuse claims continue to evolve, survivors who want to better understand their rights should consult with sexual abuse lawyers who keeps close tabs on new developments in this area of law.

At Dolman Law Group, we expect that the new laws will embolden many survivors of sexual abuse in sports and othewise to step forward and finally tell their stories. Our compassionate legal team is prepared to support and champion those who have been abused who are ready to seek justice.

How Athlete Sexual Abuse Lawyers Can Help

There is little that can compensate for the horrors of sexual abuse.

It takes enormous strength and courage to come forward to tell a story of sexual abuse and to confront an abuser. As sexual abuse attorneys, our job is to listen, give you an initial impression of your options, and help you find the path that's right for you

Having a confidential meeting with one of our attorneys does not obligate you to move forward with any legal action if you don't want to. If you are a sexual abuse survivor and you want to bring legal allegations against your abuser or someone who enabled the abuse, we will work closely with you to develop a legal strategy and an appropriate “demand” for monetary damages and, if applicable, other forms of legal relief.

The process of building a case can take a heavy emotional toll on abuse survivors, and on our attorneys. Ultimately, we strive to give our clients clear, straightforward advice about their legal options so they can make the decisions that best suit them.

It is always the client's decision—and only the client's decision—whether to move forward with a legal claim alleging sexual abuse. If that is what our client chooses, then we aim to guide them through every step of the process. We will work together to make a demand on the parties with potential legal liability, file a lawsuit, negotiate a settlement, and (if it necessary) take the case to trial. At every stage, we make sure our client understands their options and knows they are in control.

Work With Skilled Attorneys for Survivors of Sexual Abuse in Sports

Dolman Law Group is based in Florida but we represent clients across the United States with affiliated law firms that have years of experience representing people harmed by the wrongful acts of others. We dedicate a portion of our practice areas to representing all victims of sexual abuse, including survivors of child sexual abuse and sexual abuse in sports. We advocate for those who have the courage to step forward and seek accountability from their abusers and others who turned a blind eye to abuse.

Our lawfirm has a well-established track record of recovering millions of dollars for our clients. Of course, we cannot guarantee results in any specific case. But we can promise that our attorneys will leave no stone unturned and no path unexplored when it comes to asserting our clients' rights to compensation and other relief.

Why Choose Dolman Law Group For Your Sexual Abuse in Sports Claim?

We practice personal injury law with an emphasis on the word “personal.” We provide personalized service to our clients and invest our full personal strength in every representation. When our clients need help making their voices heard, we are not afraid to stand up to the largest institutions and most powerful individuals to make sure no one is above the law.

Dolman Law Group stands ready to help anyone who has suffered sexual abuse in evaluating their legal options and choosing a path forward that suits them best. Our team treats every survivor with the compassion and respect they deserve. We never push a client into a legal strategy that they are not ready to pursue. When a client is ready, we do everything in our power to seek justice and compensation from anyone who harmed our client.

If you have questions about taking legal action involving an allegation of sexual abuse, then the sexual abuse lawyers at Dolman Law Group want to help you learn about your options. Contact us today to schedule your confidential, free, no-obligation consultation with our law group by calling (727) 451-6900 or complete our online contact form.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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