An expert on child abuse in sport from Edge Hill University has been chosen to lead a new European project to help empower young people to act and protect themselves against sexual harassment.

Dr Mike Hartill, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Sport is spearheading the UK’s involvement in a two-year initiative to help safeguard children from sexual abuse in sport.

The idea behind the latest project is to develop capacity amongst young Europeans (16-22 years old) at grass roots sports level by empowering them against sexual exploitation and abuse. The young people will work together with educated leaders in their national networks to create youth-led campaigns and will become active agents of social change in their settings, encouraging peers and intermediaries to contribute to shaping a protective sports environment.

“This is a really unusual project because we’re actually involving young people and giving them a voice,” said Dr Hartill, “which is fantastic because previous work has sometimes failed to include input from the age group we’re actually trying to reach. Those who are selected to help deliver the project will come up with their own ideas, campaigns and drive forward key messages. Hopefully they will be able to reach out to their peers in a way that adults can’t.”

This work builds on Dr Hartill’s research and his recent collaborations with the European network and exchange of good practice, which was initiated through the EU-project Better, Safer, Stronger – Prevention of sexual and gender harassment and abuse in sports.


Dr Hartill has recently presented to a national inquiry by the Children’s Commissioner into sexual exploitation in gangs and groups. He said: “I’ve been working in this area of research for many years and I have always argued that sport needs to do more to protect children’s rights so, from a personal point of view, to be involved in a project of this nature is very rewarding. If we can do something positive through sport to address the issue of child sexual abuse in our society then it’s a very positive initiative for Edge Hill to be involved in.”

Dr Hartill is hoping that Edge Hill University students will be well represented amongst applicants for the principal positions to take the project forward. He said: “This project complements the undergraduate programme we have within the department, which has a strong focus on child welfare. So working on this project would provide students with invaluable experience and contribute significantly to their personal profile within an expanding area of employment.”

The project’s ultimate aim is to build supportive structures for the sporting sector regarding the prevention of sexual harassment and abuse, raising awareness on all levels of society and to give the youth-led campaigns an additional platform. They are now preparing for their first European training session, set to take place in September 2013 in Vienna.

For more information about the project – which has received financial support from the DAPHNE III Programme 2011/2012 of the European Union – and how to become involved if you’re a young person, please email


*The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of Dr Mike Hartill and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission.