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Athlete abuse hurts everyone: vicarious and secondary traumatic stress in sport
  1. Yetsa A Tuakli-Wosornu1,2,
  2. Michael Amick3,
  3. Amos N Guiora4,
  4. Sarah R Lowe5
  1. 1Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Yale University School of Public Health, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
  2. 2Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
  3. 3Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
  4. 4S.J. Quinney College of Law, The University of Utah College of Law, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
  5. 5Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Yale University School of Public Health, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Yetsa A Tuakli-Wosornu, Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Yale University School of Public Health, New Haven, CT 06520, USA; yetsa.tuakli-wosornu{at}

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The guilt that I feel, and that my husband feels … is crippling. (Anonymous mother of a former gymnast abused in sport)

Sport is commonly positioned as an antidote to adverse childhood experiences, including neglect and psychological, physical and sexual abuse.1 However, a growing number of well-publicised cases firmly establish athlete abuse1 as a significant threat to modern sport.2 Entrenched and pervasive, all forms of abuse can have severe consequences, both for athletes who are directly victimised and their sports organisations.2 But there may be stakeholders for whom the effects of abuse are less obvious: observers of abuse and the athletic community as a whole. It is important that the sports and exercise medicine (SEM) community conceptualise athlete abuse as community trauma; while these events occur in close interpersonal contexts, their impacts span beyond individuals to the entire sports community. Not only do the effects of abuse manifest in individuals’ health and well-being, but they also influence relational health among community members, team performance and institutional climate. Therefore, SEM must prioritise primary prevention in data-driven models of athlete abuse management. Not accounting for observer harm risks underestimation of the true toll abuse takes on all stakeholders in sports communities—and on sport itself.

Vicarious and secondary trauma in society and in sport

Vicarious traumatisation (VT) and secondary traumatic stress (STS) are terms that describe the …

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  • Contributors YAT-W developed the idea and composed the initial draft. MA and ANG contributed to further content development. All authors contributed to further idea progression, writing, and final approval of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Terminology varies. For ease, we use the word ‘abuse’ to summarise all forms of interpersonal violence (or ‘non-accidental violence’) in sport, including neglect, as well as psychological, physical and sexual harassment and abuse. This decision was made by expert panel consensus, and with reference to three sources: Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse Adopted by the Interagency Working Group in Luxembourg,9 Mercy JA et al,10 Mountjoy M et al.11