Victims of sexual abuse and exploitation in sport are being given a voice thanks to a unique project created and co-led by Edge Hill University.
The brainchild of Dr Mike Hartill, Reader in the sociology of sport, who is part of the current FA inquiry into non-recent allegations of sex abuse in football, the VOICE project records the stories of victims to ensure their experiences are heard.
With partners across eight European countries, VOICE has collected abuse stories from victims across all sports including high-profile professional athletes such as Spain’s Olympic gymnast Gloria Viseras, who is also on the steering committee of VOICE.
Mike said: “I’ve spent many years researching and sharing knowledge around sexual abuse and exploitation in sport but I’ve always felt the voices of victims were missing.
“There has been much policy development in sport since the early 2000s but the voices of victims and survivors have rarely been part of those developments.
“Many professional sports organisations have abuse policies but there is an absence of victims’ voices. We need to hear much more about the realities of abuse and ensure victims’ stories are not whitewashed from the picture.
“Lots of sports organisations across Europe are hearing these stories for the first time and they make such a big impact. Hearing the voices of survivors has such a powerful effect on people and is more likely to inform and change the way they think and tackle abuse.”
Interviewing victims and recording their stories, anonymously if preferred, is the first stage of the project which is ongoing.
Stage two begins this month with a national forum (15th June) which will see survivors, including one of the first victims of the convicted child sex offender and football scout Barry Bennell, address sports organisations including Premier League Football clubs and governing bodies.
Ian Ackley, who says Bennell raped him more than 100 times between the ages of 10 and 14, will speak about his abuse in the hope the organisations can learn from his and other survivor’s experiences.
The forum is organised by Dr Hartill and the National Working Group on Child Sexual Exploitation (NWG Network). The CEO of NWG is Sheila Taylor MBE who is a member of the project’s steering committee and an inspirational figure in this field.
Senior officials from Sport England, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Child Protection in Sport Unit will be among the delegates.
Mike added: “Our aim is to collect up to 10 survivor interviews from each country, then share this archive with key sports organisations so that developments in policy, education and practice are informed by these experiences.
“Countries such as Hungary, Slovenia, Belgium and Spain have given very little coverage to victims so we hope the project will spearhead changes where child protection in sport is an emerging area.
“The final stage of the project will see us create, promote and distribute educational material across Europe to share knowledge and promote change.”
Voices for Truth and Dignity is funded by the European Commission (Erasmus+) and is co-led with Cologne Sports University. Partners include six European universities, NWG Network (UK), the European Paralympic Committee and European Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation.