Abuse in Football – Continuing to Turn a Blind Eye to Sexual Abuse

The recent revelations about the sexual abuse of children in football (for those who don’t know better “soccer”) have highlighted yet again the issues that have, and continue to, blight the protection of children.  This is adults turning a blind eye to abuse and continued failings to take the protection of all our children seriously.

With the steady stream of ex-footballers coming forward saying they were sexually abused as children in the “care” of professional football clubs, the shouts of “is this another Saville abuse shock?” The answer is “NO” and for so many reasons.

The first is that this shouldn’t be a “shock”.  Not because it is not shocking in itself because it obviously is.  The shocking lack of duty of care of the football clubs towards these children is clear.  However it should not be shocking to know that this and does happen on a large scale in so many areas of our society.

Secondly to bring the “Saville” panic into the arguments about the protection of children does no one any favours,  This argument points at “evil” individuals who prey on the innocent and their sinister methods hid their abhorent actions.   Yes, these abusers of children are wicked and prey on the most vulnerable in society but this looses perhaps the most important part of protecting children.  This is how adults and society in general have a responsibility.  A responsibility to keep safe both individual children but also our future adults.

The uncovering of large scale sexual abuse of children in football should not be seen as yet another inquiry to be had into one organisations failings but instead should finally be the time when we (that is all of us and not just professionals) taking child protection seriously. This football scandal is another horrific example about how children were once again let down by adults and their organisations.

It would be easy to point the finger of blame at organisations.  In this cae the Football Association of the England and the individual clubs themselves have clearly had the welfare of children in the charge not at the top of the list.  It would appear that all probably had information that abuse may be happening but sought not to act on this.  Certainly the Football Association were asked decades ago about potential abuse and not only did little or nothing about it but were less than open about what they had or hadn’t done.  In addition the football clubs also appear to have had an idea that there were “issues”. We have seen from this that organisations often don’t act in the welfare of the children but instead to protect themselves,  both individuals and organisations, from individual and organisational  criticism or potential legal action. In addition one wonders how the professional organisation for footballers in the UK, the PFA, knew nothing of this.  What this notes is that widespread sexual abuse of children in professional football, like in many areas of our society, was not reported by adults and particular those with a duty of care.

That no one in the UK has a duty to report the abuse of children seems to be an astonishing state of affairs.  Lets repeat this: there is NO mandatory reporting of abuse of any kind.  Let us be very clear here.  It is close to impossible that adults were unaware of abuse in football, as is the case in nearly all non-domestic abuse.  Those adults who knew about the abuse of these vulnerable children did nothing.  They turned a blind eye to the abuse to either protect themselves or their organisations or both.  Although we must show our disgust at the abusers actions, perhaps it is finally time that we show the equal amount of disgust at those who seek to either turn a blind eye or actively protect the abusers and not the children.

As a society we say all the right things about protecting our children.  They are our future right? If you look at how poorly we fund our child protection systems in all areas not just social work and how how poorly they are often organised, the actions rarely mirror the rhetoric.  For example, a recent review of the Metropolitan police in London showed considerable shortcomings in the investigation of child abuse and reports over many years of child protection services in the UK show, sometimes, a shocking lack of basic protection of children.

It is time that we seriously consider how we protect our children.  Funding and organisation are obvious ways of assisting but there appears little appetite to make significant positive improvements.  However the bigger and more serious issue is how all of us protect our children, If we continue to just blame the individual abusers we miss the point.  The point is that without the compliance of adults who failed to act, report and protect the abuse could not have happened over extended periods and had they have acted as decent human beings then significant harm could, and probably would, have been prevented.

It is interesting to note that the abuses rarely get uncovered by the organisations they happen in.  Where there is little doubt that adults know or knew that children were being harmed.  They are more than often uncovered by the bravery of the abused and often not until they have suffered into their adulthood.  Should this not tell us something?  Should this not tell us that many people in society are cowards who turn a blind eye.  It is time for those people to be outed as much as the abusers.  They enabled the abuse.  They left children in situations of significant harm and cared not a jot for the distress being caused both at the time and into adulthood. As a brief aside, it is also important that whistleblowers are also protected in law.  Without that protection the whistleblower can get stuck in an extremely difficult situation.

It is now time for reporting of abuse to  be mandatory not only for professionals but for everyone.  Where it becomes clear that adults know and do not report abuse then criminal charges should be bought.  In addition where organisations are found to have covered up abuse in any way then significant punishments should be incurred, not only financial and reputational but also criminal.   Heads of organisations should be clear that their liberty would be a risk should they consider not acting or preventing.  Until the option of doing nothing is more significant than acting then there appears little that will change.

This is not just a political issue but one that should be discussed and finally acted upon by all communities and societies. Otherwise the “shocking” revelations of abuse in football will only be next in the list of “shocking revelations”.  Don’t just be shocked, act.  Don’t just leave it up to those abused to be brave.  It is time for all to be brave.