How to Protect Your Gymnast From Sexual Abuse

Cara DevenneyMiscellaneous, Gymnastics Parenting1 Comment


U.S.A. Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, was sentenced to life in jail for sexually abusing gymnasts and keeping it silent. Around 250 (and most likely more) gymnasts have spoken up about the accusations because they were not going to hide their secret in the dark anymore.

This sex abuse scandal because one of the biggest sex scandals in all of sports history; Nassar was exposed to the entire world for his disgusting actions making every parent’s nightmare a reality.

This post is to help those who are worried about their gymnast and are not quite sure on what steps to take to educate their gymnast to keep them as safe as possible when you are not around.

Talk to your gymnast

I cannot stress enough how important communication within a relationship is. I know having a “sex abuse” talk can be nerve wrecking, especially if your gymnast is on the younger side.

Sitting your gymnast down and having the conversation is probably something that you never thought you had to do, but because of what happened to the victims of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal “the talk” has to become a priority.

You leave your gymnast day after day with other adults that you feel that you can trust, but how do you know if your gymnast is 100 percent safe? Your gymnast not only works alongside his/her teammates, but there are times where your gymnast will have one-on-one time with a trainer, a doctor, a coach, etc.

Your gymnast trusts the adults he/she is working with because sex abuse is something that doesn’t cross a young athlete’s mind. This is where you come in and make sure that your gymnast is okay just by having conversations and asking questions about their day.

If you do not talk to your gymnast about his/her body then your gymnast might think that inappropriate touching or aggressiveness is normal, which it definitely is not.

If you notice bruises, scars, or changes in your athlete’s mood then immediately ask your gymnast for details. If something seems concerning then you have to contact the gym owner right away and set up a meeting. Ignoring these signs is not ideal for it can lead to more problems or make your gymnast feel very worried.

Make sure your gymnast knows when to speak up

When it comes to sexual abuse, many stay silent. This is because the victim is scared that he/she will be in danger or that his/her career is threatened. A predator may try to trick your athlete into thinking he/she is doing the right thing when really he/she is doing the wrong thing.

A predator may also threaten your gymnast by saying his/her career will come to an end if he/she tells anyone what happens behind closed doors. Another example would also be bribing your little gymnast by telling him/her that if he/she does “this”, then they will be rewarded.

It is up to you to assure your gymnast that he/she will not be in trouble or in harms way if he/she speaks up. Another move a predator may make is telling your gymnast that YOU (as the parent) will be disappointed and mad at your gymnast. As parents, it is our job to protect our children the best we can.

If your gymnast does speak up and open up to you, do not let your gymnast go back to that gym without you and without setting up a meeting with the coaches and gym owners. It also would not be a bad idea to involve police as well so they can begin an investigation.

Talk with the gym owner and coaches

A lot of gyms have sitting areas where you can watch your gymnast practice through a window. When you are dropping off your gymnast, stick around for a while. When you are picking up your gymnast, show up early.

Popping in and out unexpectedly is a good idea because it will keep the predators alert, because we all know if Mama Bear sees something she doesn’t like, she WILL attack!

Like I mentioned above; if your gymnast has a change in mood, is purposely trying to skip practices, or just does not seem like himself/herself then you have to take action and get to the bottom of it.

Work on an open-trust relationship with your gymnast

Children and teens, in general, find it to be awkward sometimes to tell you everything that goes on in their life because they are afraid of getting into trouble, getting hollered at, or getting grounded.

Having an open mind and letting your gymnast talk without you getting upset is a start. Whatever your gymnast has to say, let him/her say it and do not react right away; give it some time before you respond to think about what you want to say and do.

Now, if your gymnast is doing something he/she is not supposed to be doing I am not saying to let him/her off the hook. There are other ways of handling the situation and there are other ways of disciplining besides yelling and screaming.

Children simply just don’t like to be yelled at therefore they may feel like if they are doing something wrong or something wrong is being done to them, they may be afraid to tell you because of the way you may react.

Let your gymnast know that whatever he/she tells you that it will be confidential between you two unless it is something serious. Pinky promise your gymnast that you will keep him/her out of harms way and that there will be nothing to worry about.

Self defense

It would not be a bad idea for your gymnast to take a self defense class in case he/she is ever put in such a situation.

Gymnasts, in general, are strong and tough, however, that does not mean he/she knows the right moves to make when in those circumstances. Self defense classes are offered at many recreation centers and gyms. There are individual classes and group classes so you can take the class alongside your gymnast to personally make sure he/she will be OK.

The key thing to take away from self defense is awareness. Do I think a 10-year-old gymnast can beat up a 40-year-old team doctor? No. However, being aware of the situation and having instincts kick in can help your gymnast get out of a bad situation.

No means No

Making sure that your gymnast knows the whole “no means no” ordeal is essential because if your gymnast does say “NO!” and the predator continues, that is invading one’s space and can even effect one’s integrity. What I mean is that if your gymnast is in such a situation, he/she may feel helpless, confused, and scared if the predator doesn’t stop.

A predator may manipulate your gymnast into thinking the sexual actions are his/her fault. Your gymnast may freeze up or panic and can’t find the words to speak out. The predator may come back and say YOUR gymnast wanted it and never said to stop.

NO literally means NO. It is major to know if the predator continued the action even after your gymnast says NO. The predator may try to persuade your gymnast by letting your gymnast know that what they are doing is OK; so make sure you and your gymnast talk about this method and what it means.

This is why communication is important so you are able to understand what is going on rather than just ignoring it because at the end of the day, you’re going to trust what your child says to you over anyone else.

Pay attention to how the coaches and trainers treat your gymnast and also keep an eye out if you notice favoritism. Ask yourself some questions on why there is such particular interest in your child and ask for answers. If you do not like what you are seeing or hearing then know you can always switch gyms.

It is OK to involve your child’s trusted primary doctor. I say this because your child’s doctor will also take the precautions and go through the steps with your child to make sure he/she is OK and will know what to do next health wise.

Being a victim is no joke and your child can develop fears, mental blocks, and anxieties. One thing you want for your child is to live a normal and happy life after being part of such a terrible thing.

If you, your gymnast, your child, or someone that you know is a victim of sexual abuse know that you are not alone and that you need to speak up and speak out. There is plenty of support out there so never fear of going through such a tragedy solo.

Please feel free to comment below to give any advice, feedback, or to share any personal experiences that we have missed when it comes to this topic.

One Comment on “How to Protect Your Gymnast From Sexual Abuse”

  1. Can gymnasts quit gymnastics to escape the sexual abuse, so they could have a normal life?

    Will the former gymnasts try another sport after they quit gymnastics?

    Thank you!!!

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