Responding to violence against women in sport

Researchers have identified strategies to help sports organisations respond to violence against adult women in sport

Researchers have identified strategies to help sports organisations respond to violence against adult women in sport.

“Violence against women is a global epidemic,” explains lead researcher, Dr Kirsty Forsdike. “One in three women globally, and one in five in Australia, experience sexual violence. One in two women experience sexual harassment and one in six experience intimate partner violence.”

While sport can help to empower women and girls, it can also perpetuate violence, harassment and inequality.

And, while there has been extensive research on child sexual abuse in sport, little is known about how community sports organisations respond to adult gender-based violence, and the supports needed to do so.

Dr Forsdike’s recent work has addressed this critical gap.

Partnering with sports organisations across Victoria – including community sport clubs, State Sport Associations and National Sport Associations – the research team worked with 22 administrators to understand what they consider to be the challenges in responding to violence against women.

They found that training and education for those staff likely to be in the best position to support women who are or have experienced violence was key.

Establishing greater transparency around reporting procedures and responsibilities, creating better policies to support victims (either through organisations or externally) and addressing the broader, often toxic, culture of sport was also regarded as critical.

“Our findings indicate consensus [from participants] on the need to respond,” says Dr Forsdike. “But it is also clear that sport organisations will need external support to do so.”

“What is equally apparent is the importance of adopting a system-wide approach to address the identified challenges – from training individuals in how to respond, to building organisational capacity to support staff, to improving physical environments and developing effective reporting systems.”

Dr Forsdike and her team are now partnering with sports organisations in regional Victoria, together with violence prevention and response specialist organisations, to develop appropriate response strategies.

Dr Forsdike has also been invited by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to join a collaboration of global leaders in safeguarding in sport, to develop the next IOC Consensus Statement on interpersonal violence in sport and safeguarding policy and practice.

“Given the importance of sport to the Australian culture, we are in a unique position in Australia to address violence against women in sport and feed into the global efforts in keeping women safe as they participate in sport,” says Dr Forsdike.

“Our future work in this space must be women-centred and engage with multiple diverse stakeholders across sport and the specialist service sector.”

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