Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse




The gymnastics community has been inundated, since the Olympics this past summer, with news pieces about the sexual abuse of gymnasts.

Two of the biggest headlines has involved Marvin Sharp and Dr. Larry Nassar.

About a year ago, Marvin Sharp was arrested and charged with three counts of child molesting and four counts of sexual misconduct with a minor.  Sharp is best known for coaching Olympians and NCAA stars Bridget Sloan and Samantha Peszek.

But Sharp never faced a jury as a result of committing suicide while in jail.

Now in the news is Dr. Larry Nassar.  Nassar was the team doctor for USA Gymnastics and also a former Michigan State University faculty member.

He faces three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a person younger than 13, is named in two lawsuits (along with USA Gymnastics), and was recently arrested and charged with receipt and attempted receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography.


An investigative news piece was recently published by USA Today in which the IndyStar and USA Today Network researched and studied hundreds of police files and court cases in the U.S. that span a 20 year period.

According to USA Today, “At least 368 gymnasts have alleged some form of sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches, gym owners and other adults working in gymnastics. That’s a rate of one every 20 days. And it’s likely an undercount.”

But how do you, as a parent, know if your gymnast is being abused by their coach.  What are the signs?

First, lets look at the warning signs exhibited by a coach that they are grooming a gymnast for potential abuse or are abusing a child.

Look for the following signs (indystar.com):

  • Giving gifts, especially if only some children receive them. Gifts given by coaches included gadgets and electronics, clothing, jewelry, stuffed animals and bicycles.
  • Spending time alone with children, especially behind closed doors.
  • Excessive text or online communication.
  • Tickling.
  • Poking.
  • Massaging stomach or other areas.
  • Touching breasts or genitals to “check” on leotards.
  • Hugging.
  • Hair stroking.
  • Sitting in laps.
  • Putting hands in inappropriate places while spotting gymnasts.
  • Talking about romantic or sexual relationships.
  • Sexual jokes or comments.
  • Taking pictures that focus on genital areas or breasts, such as children performing the splits.

Now what are some of the warning signs exhibited by a gymnast that they are potentially being sexual abused?

The U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) lists the following warning signs:

  • Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
  • Seems distracted or distant at odd times
  • Has a sudden change in eating habits
  • Refuses to eat
  • Loses or drastically increases appetite
  • Has trouble swallowing
  • Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity, or withdrawal
  • Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
  • Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places
  • Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
  • Writes, draws, plays, or dreams of sexual or frightening image
  • Talks about a new older friend
  • Suddenly has money, toys, or other gifts without reason
  • Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty, or bad
  • Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language, and knowledge

The NSOPW also lists warning signs that are more specific to teens.  These include:

  • Self-injury (cutting, burning)
  • Inadequate personal hygiene
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Running away from home
  • Depression, anxiety
  • Suicide attempts
  • Fear of intimacy or closeness
  • Compulsive eating or dieting

There are also physical signs to look for that can tell you if your gymnast is being sexual abused.

These include (stopitnow.org):

  • Pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth
  • Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements
  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

“Physical signs of sexual abuse are rare.  If you see these signs, bring your child to a doctor.   Your doctor can help you understand what may be happening and test for sexually transmitted diseases,” states stopitnow.org.

What do you do if you suspect that your gymnast is being abused?


If it is an emergency situation, nsopw.gov recommends calling 9-1-1 for immediate assistance.

Child Protective Services, or similar organization in your state,  is another resource available to anyone looking to report a suspected case of child abuse.

In addition, you can also contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline.  They are staffed with professional crisis counselors who are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

All calls are anonymous. Contact them at 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453).

Source: indystar.com, usatoday.com, nsopw.gov, stopitnow.org, childhelp.org


Protecting Gymnasts From Predators – Part 1

Protecting Gymnasts From Predators – Part 2

Protecting Gymnasts From Predators – Part 3

USAG “Independent Review” of Sex Abuse Scandal


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