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Charlie Webster: Coaches’ suspected child abuse must be reported

Charlie Webster: Coaches’ suspected child abuse must be reported

The Government is under mounting pressure to introduce mandatory reporting of suspected child sexual abuse after the broadcaster Charlie Webster was contacted by thousands of people within a week of her documentary into athletics.

Webster, who was abused by her athletics coach Paul North when she was 15, has been inundated with messages from men and women, ranging from teenagers to adults now in their sixties, who detailed abuse they suffered by coaches and a “cover-up” culture across British sport. As well as hearing from survivors who now feel ready to share their experiences, and four more people with stories of North’s abuse, Webster has experienced indirect attempts over recent days by a small group of “known abusers” to “silence” her.

The group Kyniska Advocacy, which campaigns for a safe environment for women in sport, has this week highlighted and reported inappropriate and offensive messages on social media from people within athletics.

Webster has also been contacted by people with experiences of abuse in swimming, karate and gymnastics. The pattern, she says, is of victims being “ignored” and met with “a culture of fear and closing of ranks”.

These coaches can then move between clubs or even different sports and prey on new victims. At present, there is no legal requirement for people working with children to report suspicions of child abuse to the police. “If there is not a will to report, that is where mandatory reporting has to come in,” Webster said.

“If there is no moral ethic to report, then we clearly have to have a legal duty to report. A lot of organising bodies are just dealing with these things themselves. And these are criminal acts.

“A coach can leave before they get barred. The allegations can be made, they can quietly go and nobody will ever know. If they get a temporary ban of one year, is that going to stop them? Even if they get barred, there are loopholes around DBS checks. There is no information sharing protocols.

“There has to be a complete ‘scrapping and start again’ attitude to DBS checks and certain recording of things. What they have now is clearly not working.”

Webster’s BBC film, Nowhere to Run: Abused by Our Coach, follows her attempt to track down former team-mates and friends from her running group in Sheffield. Webster, now 38, publicly revealed in 2014 that she had been abused.

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