Sexual Abuse of Student-Athletes

January 13, 2022 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Sexual Abuse of Student-Athletes It seems as if you hear about a new sexual abuse scandal every time you pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV, or when scrolling through one of your social media feeds. Sexual abuse of student-athletes has been prevalent in the media in recent years, but unfortunately, has always been part of the landscape of high school and college sports. Sadly, sexual abuse of athletes has often gone unreported for decades for a variety of reasons such as the fear of retaliation, fear of loss of a scholarship, or fear on the athlete's part that they were responsible or “invited” the abuse. Disturbingly, many coaches and others would turn a blind eye to the abuse or look the other way in order to protect a colleague, the athletic program or the school. In August 2021, a study commissioned by Lauren's Kids, a nonprofit group that seeks to educate parents and kids about sexual behavior and sexual violence, found that over one in four current or former student-athletes surveyed have been "sexually assaulted or harassed by someone in a position of power on campus" (as compared with one in ten of those in the general population). Only one in four student-athletes reported the abuse to campus administrators, and nearly half 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.

Sexual Abuse 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 attracted national attention over the last two years. In March 2020, the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan commissioned an independent investigative report by Washington, D.C.-based law firm, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.  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 are now suing the university for failure to protect them, as they felt trapped and were not fully aware that what was happening to them was abuse and were scared that no one would believe them. Currently, the Michigan legislature is considering new bills that would eliminate the statute of limitations specifically for these claims.  The victims of Dr. Anderson would get a 30-day period in which they could file lawsuits and sue the school for damages, regardless of the statute of limitations. The university would not be able to use the government immunity defense. It is the second time since 2018 that the state of Michigan could retroactively open a 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.

Legal Options for Victims of Sexual Abuse

There is no “single” reason survivors of sexual abuse decide to confront their abusers and those who enabled them in court. Some seek closure while others want a measure of justice. Many want to help prevent sexual abuse from harming others. According to advocates for sexual abuse survivors, it is common for survivors to wait years, even decades, to reveal a history of sexual abuse. Coming to terms with the abuse and telling someone else about it often means overcoming emotional barriers and reliving extremely painful memories. 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 for bringing abusers to justice, meaning that survivors find their paths blocked from seeking accountability through the courts. Fortunately, legislators have begun to take a more compassionate and realistic view of the trauma of sexual abuse and have begun moving to pass legislation that expands statutes of limitation for sexual abuse crimes and civil cases, and even to “revive” cases that have otherwise expired under existing limitations rules. Legal protections of student-athletes, legal protections 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. 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 institutions and entities that facilitated 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 prosecutors to prove those crimes “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In contrast, the burden of proof on survivors for seeking monetary compensation and other forms of relief is typically less difficult to meet. So, even if a prosecutor cannot prove the crimes occurred, survivors can often still win a civil judgment. Because the state laws on criminal and civil statutes of limitation for sexual abuse claims continue to evolve, survivors should retain legal counsel that keeps close tabs on new developments. At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we expect that the new laws will embolden many survivors of sexual abuse to step forward and finally tell their stories.

Seeking Justice for Sexual Abuse

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. Our job is to listen, to give you an initial impression of your options, and to help you find the path that's right for you Meeting with one of our attorneys does not obligate you to move forward with any legal action if you don't want to. If a sexual abuse victim decides to move forward with making legal allegations against an abuser or someone who enabled abuse, then we work closely with that client to develop a legal strategy and an appropriate “demand” for money damages and, if applicable, other forms of legal relief. The process of building a case can take a heavy emotional toll on our clients (and on our attorneys). Ultimately, we strive to give our clients clear, straightforward advice about their legal options, so that they can make the decisions that best suit them. It is 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 the client chooses, then we aim to guide our client through every step of the process of making a demand on parties with potential legal liability, filing a lawsuit, negotiating a settlement, and (if it comes to it) taking the case to trial. At every stage, we make sure our client understands their options and know they are in control.

Attorneys for Survivors of Sexual Abuse Nationwide

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, both based in Florida and representing clients across the United States, are 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 victims, including survivors of child sexual abuse -particularly those who have had the courage to step forward and seek accountability from their abusers and those who turned a blind eye to abuse. Our affiliated firms have 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. We practice personal injury law with an emphasis on the “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 Accident Injury Lawyers, PA stand ready to help anyone who has a history of 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 for which our client is not ready. When a client is ready, we do everything in our power to seek justice and compensation from anyone who did our client harm. If you have questions about taking legal action involving an allegation of sexual abuse, then the sexual abuse lawyers or student-athlete sexual abuse lawyers at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA want to help you learn about your options. Contact us today to schedule your confidential, free, no-obligation consultation with our law group.


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 represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 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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