What to do if you suspect abuse or neglect

If your child tells you that they are being abused or neglected, you should:

  • Take them somewhere where they can talk freely
  • Listen, believe, and support your child
  • Reassure them continuously and speak on a level that they can understand
  • Make sure they understand that what happened is not their fault
  • Contact their pediatrician or other medical provider right away
  • Contact the police and/or a local Child Advocacy Center 
  • Make the child feel safe. In terms of physical and emotional comfort.
    • For example: The child may show regression by requesting a stuffed animal that they haven’t slept with in years; allow this to happen

Each state designates specific agencies to receive and investigate reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. Typically, this responsibility is carried out by child protective services (CPS) within a Department of Social Services, Department of Human Resources, or Division of Family and Children Services. In some states, police departments may also receive reports of child abuse or neglect.

Some people (typically certain types of professionals) are required by law to make a report of child maltreatment under specific circumstances —these are called mandatory reporters. For more information, see the Child Welfare Information Gateway publication, Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect.

For more information or assistance with reporting, please call Childhelp USA at 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453), or your local CPS agency.

Most youth sports connected with National Governing Bodies under the USOPC will use SafeSport as the primary reporting and investigating tool. While this is an option, we recommend also reporting to law enforcement in conjunction for a timely response. If the athlete is in a sport organization that is unaffiliated with a national governing body, request and familiarize yourself with the policies and procedures for reporting abuse from their organization. Please note, all reports of child abuse (including sexual abuse) of a minor must ALSO be reported to local authorities. To learn more about what the reporting process may look like, check out our “Getting Help” resource.

You do not have to investigate or be certain that abuse has occurred; you only have to suspect its occurrence.

If your report is an emergency, call 911 or your local law enforcement agency.

Barriers to reporting abuse in sports

Hartill (2009) suggests that there are four barriers to reporting sexual abuse in organized sport, which are as follows: 

  1. Lack of procedures for reporting sexual abuse;
  2. Abuse viewed as the problem of the individual member, not the institution
  3. The closed nature of institutions
  4. The belief system surrounding institution

Within sport, additional barriers to reporting may include:

  • Fear of retaliation
  • Not understanding it was assault or abuse
  • Not knowing how or where to report
  • Fear of being sidelined or kicked off the team
  • Fear that reporting would jeopardize their career
  • Threats from perpetrators (financial, physical, or emotional)

Additionally, survivors in sports may experience the additional barriers to reporting identified outside of the sporting context. RAINN gives us a good understanding of why sexual violence victims choose to report, or not to. Of the sexual violence crimes reported to police from 2005-2010, the survivor reporting gave the following reasons for doing so:

  • 28% to protect the household or victim from further crimes by the offender
  • 25% to stop the incident or prevent recurrence or escalation
  • 21% to improve police surveillance or they believed they had a duty to do so
  • 17% to catch/punish/prevent offender from reoffending
  • 6% gave a different answer, or declined to cite one reason
  • 3% did so to get help or recover loss

Of the sexual violence crimes not reported to police from 2005-2010, the victim gave the following reasons for not reporting:

  • 20% feared retaliation
  • 13% believed the police would not do anything to help
  • 13% believed it was a personal matter
  • 8% reported to a different official
  • 8% believed it was not important enough to report
  • 7% did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble
  • 2% believed the police could not do anything to help
  • 30% gave another reason, or did not cite one reason