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Current knowledge of people who commit child sex offenses (PCSO) in sport contexts is based on descriptive information from cross-sectional self-report studies of survivors and media coverage of court cases. In-depth scientific analyses of characteristics, interpersonal dynamics, and applied theories of sexual offending in sport are largely absent. This paper starts with a description of available Belgian data on PCSO in sport, coming from self-reports in community samples, reported cases in the media, and interviews with survivors. The main goal of this study is the analysis of treatment file information from 16 convicted PCSO in sport using two actuarial recidivism assessment instruments (STATIC-99R and STABLE-2007). Overall, the majority of the included PCSO's risk assessments indicated relatively low risk of sexual recidivism. Notable was the preponderance of high risk scores on items related to exclusively unrelated victims, male victims, sexual deviance, and the absence of an intimate relationship. Other static and dynamic factors related to the risk of sexual recidivism, e.g., (prior) non-sexual violent offenses, unknown victims, hostility toward women, lack of concern for others, and poor cooperation with supervisors were rated relatively low in this sample of PCSO in sport. The findings point toward the complex and nuanced patterns that underlie child sexual abuse in sport. The current findings bring us one step closer to filling in the puzzle of child sexual abuse in sport and will help inform evidence- and experience-based prevention and intervention efforts.
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published: 05 July 2021
doi: 10.3389/fspor.2021.624548
Frontiers in Sports and Active Living | 1July 2021 | Volume 3 | Article 624548
Edited by:
Toomas Timpka,
Linköping University, Sweden
Reviewed by:
Flávio De Souza Castro,
Federal University of Rio Grande Do
Sul, Brazil
Jules Mulder,
Independent Researcher, Amsterdam,
Tine Vertommen
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Elite Sports and Performance
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Sports and Active Living
Received: 31 October 2020
Accepted: 07 June 2021
Published: 05 July 2021
Vertommen T, Verhelle H, Martijn FM
and De Boeck M (2021) Static and
Dynamic Recidivism Risk Factors of
People Who Have Committed Child
Sex Offenses in Sport.
Front. Sports Act. Living 3:624548.
doi: 10.3389/fspor.2021.624548
Static and Dynamic Recidivism Risk
Factors of People Who Have
Committed Child Sex Offenses in
Tine Vertommen 1,2,3
*, Helena Verhelle 1, Frederica M. Martijn 1and Minne De Boeck 4,5
1Forensic Psychology, Thomas More University of Applied Sciences, Antwerp, Belgium, 2Social Epidemiology and Health
Policy, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium, 3International Research Network on Violence and Integrity in Sport,
Antwerp, Belgium, 4University Forensic Center, Antwerp University Hospital, Antwerp, Belgium, 5Collaborative Antwerp
Psychiatric Research Institute, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium
Current knowledge of people who commit child sex offenses (PCSO) in sport contexts
is based on descriptive information from cross-sectional self-report studies of survivors
and media coverage of court cases. In-depth scientific analyses of characteristics,
interpersonal dynamics, and applied theories of sexual offending in sport are largely
absent. This paper starts with a description of available Belgian data on PCSO in sport,
coming from self-reports in community samples, reported cases in the media, and
interviews with survivors. The main goal of this study is the analysis of treatment file
information from 16 convicted PCSO in sport using two actuarial recidivism assessment
instruments (STATIC-99R and STABLE-2007). Overall, the majority of the included
PCSO’s risk assessments indicated relatively low risk of sexual recidivism. Notable was
the preponderance of high risk scores on items related to exclusively unrelated victims,
male victims, sexual deviance, and the absence of an intimate relationship. Other static
and dynamic factors related to the risk of sexual recidivism, e.g., (prior) non-sexual violent
offenses, unknown victims, hostility toward women, lack of concern for others, and poor
cooperation with supervisors were rated relatively low in this sample of PCSO in sport.
The findings point toward the complex and nuanced patterns that underlie child sexual
abuse in sport. The current findings bring us one step closer to filling in the puzzle of child
sexual abuse in sport and will help inform evidence- and experience-based prevention
and intervention efforts.
Keywords: child sexual abuse, prevention, sexual violence, risk factors, extrafamilial abuse, recidivism
The Global Problem of Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a global problem of considerable extent. A meta-analysis on the
worldwide prevalence of CSA, based on 331 independent samples reported in 217 publications
between 1980 and 2008, revealed an overall self-report prevalence rate of 14% (Stoltenborgh
et al., 2011). Self-reported CSA was more common among female participants (18%) than among
male participants (8%). A systematic review focused on more recent studies, including 55 studies
between 2002 and 2009, revealed prevalence estimates ranging from 8 to 31% in girls and 3 to 17%
in boys (Barth et al., 2013).
Vertommen et al. Risk Factors of CSA in Sport
Estimates of CSA prevalence vary greatly depending on the
definitions used. Depending on country, discipline, or institution,
definitions of sexual abuse can include narrow perspectives
(e.g., only including genital penetration) vs. broad perspectives,
including various contact sexual behaviors, such as fondling or
oral penetration, as well as non-contact sexual behaviors, such as
verbal sexual harassment or sextortion. In addition to the use of
various definitions and differences of CSA worldwide, the legal
age of consent to engage in sexual activity also yields differences
in prevalence numbers of CSA.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines CSA as
“the involvement of a child in sexual activities that he or she
does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent
to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and
cannot give consent, or that violate the laws or social taboos of a
society. Child sexual abuse is evidenced by this activity between
a child and an adult or another child who by age or development
is in a relationship of responsibility, trust or power, the activity
being intended to gratify or satisfy the needs of the other person”
(World Health Organization, 1999, p. 15).
This paper uses CSA, and concurrently sexual offending against
children, as a broad umbrella term for sexually transgressive
behaviors, while recognizing that the varying use of definitions
across research precludes broad generalizations.
Many victims of CSA do not disclose their experiences of
abuse to anyone. If they do, it often takes a long time from the
start of the abuse to their disclosure, and many refrain from
making official complaints or reports. These aspects are likely
responsible for the estimated high “dark number” of reported
CSA (Schönbucher et al., 2012; Federale politie, 2018). Official
statistics notoriously underestimate the actual prevalence of CSA,
given the barriers for reporting and disclosure.
Official statistics and scientific data on CSA are scarce in
Belgium. The Belgian legislation considers minors younger than
16 unable to consent, thus rendering all sexual activities with
these minors as illegal in Belgium (Belgisch Strafwetboek, 1867).
Bal et al. (2003) explored self-reports of sexual abuse among
Belgian children aged 11–19. The results indicated that 10% of
all Belgian children had experienced sexual abuse at least once
in their lifetime. A 2010 study of 2,014 Belgian adults asked
about their experiences of CSA -in total, 9% of women and
3% of men said they had experiences of CSA8 (Pieters et al.,
2010). A large-scale study of sexual health in Flanders in 2013,
known as the Sexpert study, explored experiences of CSA in
1,731 adult respondents and found that 22% of women and
11% of men reported having experienced sexually transgressive
behaviors before the age of 18, ranging from unwanted sexual
touching, to being forced to watch pornographic content, and
having experienced rape and/or attempted rape (Buysse et al.,
CSA in Sport
How often does it happen? CSA does not occur in limited or
specific contexts, but occurs across a multitude of environments
and places, including the sports context. Prevalence studies on
sexual victimization in sport are scarce. A systematic literature
review yielded seven eligible studies on experiences of CSA
in sport (Bjørnseth and Szabo, 2018), with only one study
examining the prevalence of CSA in sport (Vertommen et al.,
2016). Herein, an estimated 14% of children in sport reported
experiencing sexually transgressive behaviors, including non-
contact sexual harassment (i.e., verbal or non-verbal), contact
sexual harassment (i.e., physical), and sexual abuse.
Studies focusing on people who commit child sexual offenses
(PCSO)1in sport are even scarcer. Only a few studies,
some quantitative and others qualitative in nature, report on
characteristics of PCSO in the context of sport. Self-report
victim studies on sexual abuse in sport found that the majority
was victimized by men (Vertommen et al., 2017). Interestingly,
some studies find that peer athletes are most often identified
as perpetrating the sexual violence, more often than coaches
or other adult sport staff. Contrary to popular belief, studies
across the world, mainly with student-athletes samples, found
that the majority of sexual harassment in sport incidents are
perpetrated by peer athletes: 88% in a UK study (Alexander et al.,
2011), 86% in a Nigerian study (Elendu and Umeakuka, 2011),
33% in a Turkish study (Gündüz et al., 2007), and 23% in a
Kenyan study (Rintaugu et al., 2014). In the same studies, the
proportion of coaches who had perpetrated sexual harassment
was remarkably lower: 8% in the UK study, 34% in the Nigerian
study, 25% in the Turkish study, and 8% in the Kenyan study.
The operationalization of sexually transgressive behaviors in
these studies is different, which means a clear estimate of the
prevalence of CSA cannot be determined.
Less is known about psychological characteristics of PCSO in
sport. A qualitative study by Brackenridge and Fasting (Fasting
and Brackenridge, 2009), based on interviews with 19 female
athletes who were sexually harassed by their coaches, led to
a preliminary typology development of coaches who sexually
harass athletes: (1) the flirting-charming coach, (2) the seductive
coach, and (3) the authoritarian coach. It should be noted that
the sample size of this study was small, that all athletes in this
study were at least 13 years old, but mostly older, and only
included girls and women; thereby restricting the generalizability
of this typology to other contexts. Another qualitative study
examined court reports to determine the characteristics of PCSO
in the context of sport to gain more knowledge about sexual
violence, including sexual abuse, in sport (Fasting et al., 2013),
but concluded that there was an absence of any “typical”
perpetration profile.
Available Data on PCSO in Sport in Belgium
To outline the current knowledge of the characteristics of PCSO
in the Belgian sport context, several available data sources were
consulted. First, information was drawn from the sole major
prevalence study of sexual abuse in Belgian sport (Vertommen
et al., 2017) that included both contact and non-contact types
of (sexually) transgressive behaviors against child athletes below
1In this paper, we use person-first language for people who have committed sexual
offenses against children because of the stigmatizing effect of labeling language
(Lowe and Willis, 2020).
Frontiers in Sports and Active Living | 2July 2021 | Volume 3 | Article 624548
Vertommen et al. Risk Factors of CSA in Sport
the age of 18. In a large general population sample of 2,044
Belgian (Flemish) adults who participated in organized sport
before the age of 18, 341 (17%) reported experiences with sexually
transgressive behaviors before the age of 18 (Vertommen et al.,
2016). These participants were asked about the characteristics
of the person who had perpetrated these behaviors. Results
indicated that these sexual offenses were mainly perpetrated by
men (91%), who were older than the victim (69%), and who had
a position of authority within their respective sport organizations
(Vertommen et al., 2017). While around two-thirds of the people
reported to have committed these behaviors had coaching or
managing positions, the other one third were (peer) athletes.
The majority of the 75 persons reporting these experiences were
women and were younger than 14 when the first instance of CSA
happened (68 and 71%, respectively).
Second, information from newspaper articles on criminal
cases was analyzed. In an unpublished Bachelor thesis,
Bruyninckx (Bruyninckx, 2017) analyzed newspaper articles on
73 criminal court cases concerning sexual offenses in sport, of
which 60 reported on sexual offenses committed against minors
younger than 18. Of these, 63% of the cases reported on victims
younger than 16. Within these cases, all prosecuted persons were
men and were older than the victim, and 90% had a position
of authority in the sport organization. More than one victim
was identified in over half of the cases. About half of the cases
concerned female victims only (49%) or male victims only (47%),
and just 4% concerned both female and male victims.
Last, survivors’ narratives provide qualitative information on
the characteristics of CSA in sport. Following the European
project “Voices for truth and Dignity: Combatting sexualized
violence in sports,” nine Belgian survivors of CSA by their
coach shared their narratives (Vertommen et al., 2019). All were
extremely young when the abuse started, with an age range
between 6 and 14, and an average age of 11. Most of them
were girls (n=7). In all narratives an older, male coach was
reported as perpetrating the abuse, and, except in one case,
all survivors reported also knowing about other children who
were victimized by the same coach, before, during, or after their
own victimization.
In summary, a high proportion of young and mostly female
athletes experience sexually transgressive behaviors in sport.
While we see a preponderance of this abuse perpetrated by
older, male coaches, abuse perpetrated by peer athletes is not a
rare occurrence.
Explaining CSA
Persistent myths on PCSO still exist in most of society. While
great advances have been made in the scientific domain of
sexual offending and forensic psychology and psychiatry, taboo,
stigmatization, and disinformation around sexual offending and
recidivism remain big challenges. For example, of all types of
delinquency, offenses breaching a person’s sexual integrity, and
in particular that of a child, are considered the most egregious
(Quinn et al., 2004). Society often presumes that people who
sexually offend are extremely dangerous and have a high risk
of reoffending. Contrary to this belief, the base rate of sexual
recidivism on a follow-up period of 5 years is in the 10–15% range
(Hanson and Bussière, 1998; Harris and Hanson, 2004; Hanson
and Morton-Bourgon, 2005), which is lower than commonly
expected, and lower than most other types of offenses. In a recent
study (Helmus L. M. et al., 2012), Helmus and colleagues found
that, typically, sexual recidivism rates for PCSO are between 4
and 12% after 5 years, and between 6 and 22% after 10 years. Some
longitudinal studies even demonstrate that it is more likely for
PCSO to reoffend with a non-sexual offense than with a sexual
offense (Hanson and Morton-Bourgon, 2004; Parkinson et al.,
Most theories of sexual offending emphasize two
psychological dispositions as main factors for the onset,
persistence, and re-occurrence of sexual offending, namely
antisociality and atypical sexual interests (Finkelhor, 1984;
Hanson and Bussière, 1998), which can be further exacerbated
by situational factors such as alcohol, strong emotions, and
opportunity (Seto, 2018). Antisociality refers to propensity
to engage in antisocial behavior, for instance typified by
impulsivity, a willingness to cross social and legal boundaries,
and risk taking (Seto, 2017). Atypical sexual interests can refer
to non-normative sexual interests, preferences, or behavior.
For instance, pedophilia (the persistent and recurrent sexual
interest in prepubescent children), hebephilia (the persistent
and recurrent attraction to pubescent children) (American
Psychiatric Association, 2013), sexual regulation issues, or sexual
coping (Seto, 2017). Contrary to common belief, pedophilia
or hebephilia are not synonymous to sexual offending against
children (Parkinson et al., 2004). According to various studies, 60
to 80% of the sexual offending against children is not committed
by people with a pedophilic of hebephilic preference (Seto, 2008;
Op goede grond, 2014). Many sexual offenses against children
rather seem to be part of a generalist antisocial or criminal
pattern, i.e., many people who commit a sexual offense have
previously committed non-sexual offenses (Seto, 2017).
Next to psychological dispositions to commit sexual offenses
against children, state facilitation factors and situational factors
may play an important role. State facilitation factors are more
dynamic and can differ from time to time within an individual,
e.g., intoxication by alcohol or drugs, or strong emotions.
Situational factors are related to opportunities to offend (e.g.,
being alone with a potential victim) (Seto, 2017).
Contrary the continuing myth that CSA is perpetrated by
strangers in a cruel, aggressive way, much CSA occurs after
a considerable period of friendly interaction that escalates to
sexual abuse, also known as grooming (Mcalinden, 2006). More
importantly, most CSA occurs within the home or by people who
are known to the victim and with whom the victim has a close
relationship (Kinderrechtencommissariaat, 2011; Tabachnick,
2013). The strong societal reaction to CSA and the stereotyping
of PCSO as “dirty old men” or “monsters” reinforces both taboos
and myths of sexual offending as well as contributes to keeping
the barriers to report CSA high (Sanghara and Wilson, 2006).
Prediction of sexual recidivism in child sex offending using risk
assessment tools.
Recidivism is defined as the reversion to criminal behavior by
an individual who was previously convicted of a criminal offense
(Maltz, 2001). Because of the devastating impact on victims, their
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Vertommen et al. Risk Factors of CSA in Sport
environment, and society at large, prediction of recidivism risk
in PCSO is an important scientific, societal, and political issue. In
this next section we will discuss sexual recidivism, which refers to
any (sex) offense that is based on a sexual motivation, including
contact and non-contact offenses (Marques et al., 1994; Harris
and Hanson, 2004).
It is commonly thought that PCSO are at lifelong high risk for
reoffending and remain dangerous. However, this assumed risk of
reoffending in PCSO is overrated. Differences in recidivism rates
vary considerably across settings and samples, and reoffending
rates are affected by differences in follow-up time and sample
selection (Helmus L. M. et al., 2012). Estimated recidivism risk
also varies based on victim characteristics, e.g., recidivism risk
is lower for people who have committed a sexual offense against
a female, intrafamilial (incest) victim, than for people who have
committed a sexual offense against a male, unrelated victim
(Hanson, 2002). The risk of recidivism is the highest in the first
year after release (Hanson, 2018). There is an emerging body of
evidence that finds that sexual recidivism risk in people who have
sexually offended decreases with age and offense-free time after
release from custody, regardless of initial risk status (Barbaree
et al., 2009).
The purpose of risk assessment is to determine the risk of
recurrent (sexual) offending and to identify the specific factors
that are of importance in determining treatment course to reduce
recidivism risk (i.e., criminogenic needs) using validated risk
assessment tools.
Risk assessments are generally based on both static and
dynamic risk factors. Static risk factors are historical items (i.e.,
unchangeable items) relating to criminal history, age, and victim
characteristics. These static risk factors are supplemented with
dynamic risk factors (i.e., risk factors that are changeable over
time), such as excessive sexual preoccupation, sexual deviance,
emotional congruence with children, interpersonal problems,
offense-supportive attitudes and beliefs, antisocial associates,
resistance to rules, self-regulation difficulties, and substance use
(Perkins et al., 1998).
Generally, three different risk assessment approaches are
used in forensic psychology: unstructured clinical judgment,
structured clinical judgment, and actuarial risk assessment. The
first generation of risk assessments were unstructured clinical
judgment. Clinicians individually assess the risk of recidivism
based on their clinical (subjective) judgment, which might affect
validity and reliability (Brown and Singh, 2014). Structured
clinical judgment is an example of evidence-based assessment
that emphasizes the use of research and theory, making use
of a structured list of empirically validated risk factors, with
room for other factors that the clinician deems relevant. The
decision making is not a mathematical calculation, but a clinical
estimation based on all items. The result of the assessment is not
a numbered score but a judgment in terms “low,” “medium” or
“high” risk of (sexual) recidivism (Goethals et al., 2020). Finally,
actuarial risk tools are structured methods for combining static
and dynamic risk factors into a total score or risk category.
They represent highly structured risk assessment scales using
empirically determined and thoroughly operationalized variables
(Rettenberger and Craig, 2017). Actuarial risk assessment
typically calculates the base rate, or the expected sexual
recidivism rate, of the “typical” person who has committed a
sexual offense with their relative risk score. This overall rate can
then be adjusted up or down based on aggravating or protective
factors (Helmus L. M. et al., 2012). Actuarial instruments provide
empirically directed estimates of recidivism probabilities and are
widely used in forensic treatment of PCSO (Hanson et al., 2013;
Rettenberger and Craig, 2020).
Knowledge of and insight in recidivism rates are of paramount
importance for treatment programs for PCSO since the primary
goal of forensic treatment is desistance from committing new
offenses. By estimating the risk of recidivism, the setting,
intensity, and duration of treatment can be modified according to
the risk level. Dynamic risk factors, which can be changeable over
time, determine associated criminogenic needs, which in turn
determine the focus of forensic treatment (van den Berg et al.,
2020). It is important to note that most research into recidivism
risk is based on new charges and/or convictism, i.e., recidivism
records known to the justice, and it is unknown what amount
of sexual recidivism goes undetected (Perkins et al., 1998; Harris
and Hanson, 2004).
Risk Factors for CSA in Sport
Analyzing risk factors for sexual recidivism might also be useful
for the development and monitoring of prevention strategies
at the level of sport organizations. Based on interviews with
female athletes reporting sexual harassment in sport, Cense and
Brackenridge proposed a temporal model of risk factors for
sexual abuse in sport (Cense and Brackenridge, 2001), building
on Cohen’s Routine Activity Theory (Cohen and Felson, 1979).
This theory emphasizes that crime occurs when three elements
converge: a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the absence
of a capable guardian. Cense and Brackenridge categorized risk
factors for sexual abuse under risk factors having to do with
coach, athlete, and the sport characteristics. Some of these risk
factors seem to overlap with empirically validated risk factors for
general sexual recidivism (e.g., lack of empathy, intimacy deficits,
or disregard for other’s boundaries), but others seem to be context
specific and remain yet to be validated (e.g., dress requirements,
amount of physical handling).
The Aim of This Study
Current models and assessment tools in forensic psychology have
not yet applied sexual offending research to the context of sport,
and most previous research has focused on organizational and
sociocultural factors in sports organizations. Up until today, very
little is known about characteristics of PCSO in sport or risk
factors related to the onset, persistence, or recidivism of sexual
offending in this area. PCSO in sport, just like PCSO in other
contexts, undergo criminal investigations, court trials, treatment,
and supervision in general society, but may have idiosyncratic
criminogenic or treatment needs, personality characteristics, or
sexual deviancy issues that are different from the general PCSO
population. This information can be very valuable in solving
a piece of the puzzle of CSA in sport and informing future
prevention and intervention efforts.
Frontiers in Sports and Active Living | 4July 2021 | Volume 3 | Article 624548
Vertommen et al. Risk Factors of CSA in Sport
This study aims to combine insights from violence in
sport research with insights from the practice of actuarial risk
assessment for sexual recidivism and CSA prevention. This study
analyzes the treatment files of 16 adult Belgian male PCSO
in sport and examines static and dynamic risk factors related
to child sexual reoffending in the context of sport. By using
risk assessment tools, validated in general population samples
of PCSO, we aim to identify which risk factors are important
in sexual offending against children, specifically in the context
of sport.
This study is based on the casefiles of 16 PCSO in sport, recruited
from two outpatient forensic treatment facilities in Belgium that
treat adults who have committed or are at risk of committing
sexually transgressive behaviors. Cases were selected based on
the following inclusion criteria: being convicted for a hands-on
sexual offense against at least one child who was aged 15 or
younger at the start of the sexual offense and having at least
one victim who they met in the context of organized sport. All
participants were men with an average age of 30 at time of the
first offense (range 12–44 years old) (see Table 1). At the most
recent risk assessment, which took place at the end of treatment,
or while still in treatment, the average age of the participant was
46 (range 26–61 years old). Most participants were single with
no children. Ten different sports were represented in this sample.
The majority of participants had a position of authority in the
sport organization (n=11). The average number of identified
victims was 5 (range 1–13) and the average age of the youngest
victim was 11 (range 2–14 years old). Ten participants offended
against male victims, and seven offended against female victims,
which means one participant offended against both male and
female victims.
All participants had previously been convicted of a child sexual
offense and concurrently followed or had completed a psychiatric
and psychological treatment in a Belgian forensic outpatient
treatment facility. The treatment was a condition for parole,
probation, or alternative penalty. The case files included police
reports, court case records, victim statements, treatment records,
and medical and diagnostic assessments. This information was
used to assess their risk of recidivism using two actuarial risk
assessment tools that are well-validated and widely used in
assessing sexual recidivism risk, and should be favored over
other approaches in recidivism assessment (Hanson and Morton-
Bourgon, 2009).
The STATIC-99R (Phenix et al., 2000) is an empirically
derived actuarial risk assessment tool designed to predict sexual
recidivism in men who have committed a sexual offense. The
STATIC-99R was validated in 2014 in the Netherlands and
is thus available in Dutch (Smid et al., 2014; Phenix et al.,
2016). The STATIC-99R consists of 10 historic items assessing
demographic information (age at release, relationship history),
sexual criminal information (prior sexual offenses, any male
victims, any unrelated victims, any stranger victims, any non-
contact sexual offenses), and general criminal information (prior
sentencing dates, index offense including non-sexual violence,
prior non-sexual violent offenses). The absence of the risk factor
is scored with a “0,” the presence of the risk factor is scored
with a “1,” i.e., lower scores indicate lower risk of reoffending.
Current age is scored between “3” and “1,” with people 40 or
older scoring “1” and people 60 or older scoring “3” (i.e.,
indicating that older age is related to a lower risk of reoffending).
The risk score for the number of previous sexual offenses is
based on both the number of charges as well as convictions
and varies between “0” and “3.” The risk score for index sexual
offense is based on the most recent sex offense for which the
person was charged, arrested, or convicted. A meta-analysis
found a moderate relationship between the STATIC-99R and
sexual recidivism (AUC.69) (Helmus L. M. et al., 2012).
The STABLE-2007 is a risk assessment tool using 13 dynamic risk
factors related to sexual self-regulation, general self-regulation,
social relationships, intimacy deficits, and cooperation with
supervision (Fernandez et al., 2012). Because of the potentially
changeable nature of dynamic factors, the STABLE-2007 is
often used to inform treatment targets and criminogenic needs
(Hanson et al., 2017). The scoring manual is available in Dutch
(van den Berg et al., 2007). Risk factors are scored with a “0”
indicating “no concerns” or “not present,” a “1” is given when
there is uncertainty about whether the factor is present or when
the factor is present but not strong enough to justify a maximum
score of 2, and a “2” suggests sufficient concerns within this risk
domain (Fernandez et al., 2012). Higher scores on the STABLE-
2007 indicate a higher risk of reoffending. Validation studies
show a moderate predictive value of the STABLE-2007 for sexual
recidivism (AUC.67) (Rettenberger and Craig, 2017).
The static and dynamic risk scores, determined by the score
on the STATIC-99R and STABLE-2007, can be combined to get
an overall assessment of the risk and needs level of a PCSO.
Hanson and colleagues (Hanson et al., 2017) make use of the
standardized risk framework, which is a method for quantifying
risk according to standardized risk levels for sexual offending
(Hogan and Sribney, 2019). The risk levels are: Risk level I, very
low risk, which is similar to people with non-sexual criminal
histories; Risk level II, below average risk, which is higher than
the very low (I) risk profile but lower than the average (III) risk
profile; Risk level III, average risk; Risk level IVa, above average
risk, which is approximately two times the average risk (III); and
Risk level IVb, well above average risk, which is approximately
three to four times higher than the average risk (III) (Brankley
et al., 2017).
In order to gather sufficient data for this study, two outpatient
treatment facilities in Belgium that treat adults who have
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Vertommen et al. Risk Factors of CSA in Sport
TABLE 1 | Characteristics of PCSO in sport, offenses and victims.
Pseudonym Age at first
Age at
last risk
Civil status Sport Role in the
Number of
Age of
Victim’s sex
Seppe 12 31 Single, no children Sport diving Member 5 6 Male
Stan 18 50 Single, no children Basketball Member 7 2 Male, Female
Jan 21 25 Single, no children Basketball Member 2 14 Male
Lars 21 26 Single, no children Swimming Coach 2 13 Female
Max 25 46 Single, no children Martial Arts Club owner 3 10 Male
Jef 26 42 Single, no children Kayaking Coach 4 5 Male
Kurt 28 61 Married, 2 children Swimming Instructor 13 11 Female
Lucas 31 56 Single, no children Martial Arts Coach 7 10 Male
Davy 32 40 Single, no children Pétanque Member 1 13 Male
Willy 34 61 Single, no children Martial arts;
Coach & club
2 14 Male
Tom 35 44 Divorced, 2 children Martial Arts Coach 5 11 Female
Thomas 35 39 Single, no children Diving Member 1 12 Female
Jarne 36 52 Married, no children Horse racing Coach 7 14 Female
Maurice 39 50 Divorced, 1 child Horse racing Coach 5 14 Female
Ronald 43 58 Single, no children Sailing Coach 10 13 Male
Mark 44 48 Married, no children Football Coach 1 14 Male
committed or are at risk of committing sexually transgressive
behaviors were contacted. Based on the inclusion criteria of this
study (conviction for contact child sexual offenses in the context
of sport, victim’s aged 15 or younger), a total of 16 treatment files
were selected. Treatment files were anonymized by the treatment
facilities and the researchers signed a confidentiality agreement
before accessing the files. The files were not digitalized and
only accessible in the treatment facilities. Files were consulted
in the treatment facilities between February 2017 and February
2018. Notes, required to substantiate the scores, were preserved.
Depending on the treatment facility protocols, risk assessment
tools are regularly scored, or are scored depending on key dates
in their trajectory (e.g., at the end of the parole dates). Scores
in this study are based on end-of-treatment scores (n=8) or
scores during ongoing treatment (n=8). Assessment scores
were checked with the clinician responsible for the respective
file and discussed within the research team, which included
two persons professionally trained in scoring the STATIC-
99R and STABLE-2007. Assessment was performed following
the guidelines provided in the Dutch manuals of the tools
(van den Berg et al., 2007; Smid et al., 2014). Raw scores on
both instruments were combined, following the guidelines for
the five level risk communication (Hogan and Sribney, 2019).
These instruments are validated on their intended target group
(i.e., men convicted of contact sexual offenses). By no means
are these instruments intended to be used for screening in a
general population.
Short vignettes describing the offense characteristics
were composed, consisting of information on the persons’
pseudonyms, type of sport, age, gender, number of victims, and
some characteristics of the offense circumstances. The study
protocol was submitted to and cleared by the Ethics Commission
of the University of Antwerp (code 16/50/550).
The following sections give a descriptive analysis at group level
per risk factor item for each of the risk assessment instruments.
Demographic Items
The age of release from index sex offense (STATIC item 1) in this
sample of PCSO in sport is relatively high, mostly between 40
and 60 years old, which indicates a decreased risk of recidivism
(see Table 2). Regarding their civil status (STATIC item 2), 10 out
of the 16 PCSO in sport had never lived with an adult intimate
(sexual) partner for 2 years or longer, prior to release from the
index offense.
Criminal History
Two PCSO in sport had any prior or index offense convictions
of non-sexual violent offenses (STATIC item 3 and 4), and five
PCSO had previous charges or convictions for sexual offenses
(STATIC item 5). Of these, four PCSO had one or two charges
or one conviction for a sexual offense prior to the index offense,
and one PCSO had eleven previous sexual offense charges, but no
convictions. None of the PCSO in this sample scored at elevated
risk for having multiple prior sentencing dates (STATIC item
6), meaning all of them had three or less previous sentencing
dates. The STATIC item 7 considers any (also other than the
index offense) non-contact sexual offenses and mainly refers
to the possession or distribution of CSA materials (commonly,
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TABLE 2 | Risk assessment scores per item (N=16) on the STATIC 99-R.
Item Risk factor 31 0 1 2 3
1 Age at release from index sex offense 2 12 2
2 Ever lived with an intimate partner – 2 years 6 10
3 Index non-sexual violence – Any convictions 14 2
4 Prior non-sexual violence – Any convictions 16
5 Prior sex offenses 11 4 1
6 Prior sentencing dates 16
7 Any convictions for non-contact sex offenses 12 4
8 Any unrelated victims 16
9 Any stranger victims 16
10 Any male victims 6 10
- indicates none of the participants were assessed to score at that particular level. Blank spaces indicate items are not measured on those scoring levels.
TABLE 3 | Risk assessment scores per item (N=16) on the STABLE-2007.
Item Stable - 2007 0 1 2 DNA
1 Significant social influences 12 4
2 Capacity for relationship stability 5 2 9
3 Emotional congruence with children 6 5 5*
4 Hostility toward women 16
5 General social rejection/loneliness 6 9 1
6 Lack of concern for others 13 3
7 Impulsive acts 13 2 1
8 Poor problem-solving skills 9 4 3
9 Negative emotionality/hostility 12 4
10 Sex drive/pre-occupation 12 2 2
11 Sex as coping 16
12 Deviant sexual interests 1 6 9
13 Co-operation with supervision 13 3
*This item can only be scored when victims are below the age of 14. Five PCSO in sport have victims older than 14.
- indicates none of the participants were assessed to score at that particular level. Blank spaces indicate items are not measured on those scoring levels.
but misleadingly, referred to as “child pornography”). Four
PCSO in this sample had previous convictions for non-contact
sex offenses.
Victim Characteristics
The last three items in the STATIC-99R concern victim
characteristics. Having unrelated, stranger, and male victims
is related to increased risk of recidivism in PCSO. The
scoring of these items is based on all available, credible
information, including self-report, victim statements, and
collateral information. The average number of victims in this
sample was five. This does not include victims of non-sexual
violence, possession of CSA materials, or visiting sex workers.
As expected, all PCSO in sport in this sample had at least one
unrelated victim, i.e., the child in the sport context (STATIC
item 8). Two PCSO had both unrelated and related (i.e.,
familial) victims. None of the participants had any unknown (i.e.,
stranger) victims (STATIC item 9). The majority of participants (n
=10) had at least one male victim (STATIC item 10).
Social Contacts
The first item in the STABLE-2007 captures positive and negative
influential social contacts (see Table 3). None of the PCSO had
negative social contacts at time of assessment. Four PCSO had
insufficient positive social contacts.
Intimacy Deficits
Eleven PCSO’s showed increased risk concerning their incapacity
of having and maintaining an intimate sexual relationship with
an adult partner (STABLE item 2). This finding mirrors the scores
on the STATIC item 2 Ever having lived with an intimate partner
for more than 2 years but additionally evaluates the quality of the
PCSO’s current relationship. The presence of a safe and healthy
adult relationship is considered as a protective factor against
sexual recidivism.
Some PCSO show emotional congruence with children, which
refers to a heightened emotional identification with children
and the feeling of being emotionally connected to children.
PCSO with high emotional congruence with children may find
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themselves to connect more easily with and feel that they
understand and are understood better by children than by adults
or may be childlike themselves in terms of interests and leisure
activities. Five PCSO showed moderate emotional congruence
with children (STABLE item 3), and six did not. As this item
is only scored when there are identified victims who are 13 or
younger, this item was not scored in the remaining five cases.
The sample scored in the direction of low risk regarding
items representing lack of empathy or general antisocial attitudes.
None of the PCSO in this sample showed hostility toward
women (STABLE item 4). The majority of the PCSO in this
sample (n=13) showed adequate concern for others (STABLE
item 6) with only three PCSO showing moderate problems in
terms of lack of concern for others. However, 10 out of 16
PCSO indicated experiencing feelings of general social rejection
and loneliness (STABLE item 5) and were feeling insecure in
their connection to their social environment at the time of
the assessment.
General Self-Regulation
PCSO in this sample reported varying levels of risk related
to cognitive problem-solving skills (STABLE item 8), with
four PCSO showing moderate issues and three PCSO showing
severe deficits related to problem solving skills. Contrarily, risk
related to impulsivity (STABLE item 7) was absent in most of
this sample, with only two PCSO showing moderate and one
PCSO showing severe problems related to impulsivity. Negative
emotionality/hostility, or the tendency to feel victimized and
generally mistreated by others, was rated relatively low in this
sample (STABLE item 9), and only 4 PCSO showed moderate
signs of negative emotionality.
Sexual Self-Regulation
The item “Sexual deviant interests” (STABLE item 12) can be
retrospectively scored based on victim characteristics. Scores can
be determined by either the total number of victims, the total
number of deviant victims (i.e., in this sample, boys younger
than 14 or girls younger than 13), by results of specialized
testing, and/or by self-reported deviant sexual interest. Having
two to seven victims results in a score “1” and having eight
or more victims results in a score “2.” Having one deviant
victim results in a score “1” and having two or more deviant
victims results in a score “2.” The majority of PCSO in sport in
this sample had elevated scores on this item, with nine PCSO
scoring at highest risk, and six PCSO scoring at moderate risk.
Further, two PCSO experienced severe problems and two PCSO
experienced moderate problems related to sexual preoccupation
(STABLE item 10), such as excessive and/or high sex drive,
frequent use of sex websites, porn collections, impersonal sexual
behavior, or fetishistic sexual behavior negatively impacting their
relationships or other domains in their life. Based on the case
file information, the other PCSO did not report problems related
to sexual preoccupation at the moment of the assessment, and
none of PCSO in this sample used sex as coping at the time of
assessment (STABLE item 11).
Cooperation With Supervision
Most participants cooperated well with supervision, such as
probation officers or therapists (STABLE item 13), indicating
no issues in terms of adherence to parole conditions or
treatment programs.
Risk Categories and Combined Risk
The total scores of the STATIC-99R and the STABLE-2007 are
combined to calculate the overall risk of sexual recidivism based
on the static and dynamic risk factors. The majority of PCSO in
this sample were assessed at a Below Average (n =6) or Average
Risk (n=7) of sexual recidivism (see Figure 1). The Below
Average Level (Level II) means that on average 5.3% of PCSO
assessed as this risk level reoffend with a sexual offense within the
next 5 years. An Average Risk (Level III) means that on average
7.5% of PCSO assessed at this risk level reoffend with a sexual
offense. Three PCSO showed an Above Average Risk (Level IVa)
of sexual recidivism, related to a 13.6% sexual recidivism risk in a
follow-up time of 5 years (Brankley et al., 2017).
This study assessed case files of 16 PCSO in sport to
assess static and dynamic risk factors related to sexual
recidivism. The assessments indicated a below average or
average recidivism risk for the majority of the PCSO in this
sample, which means that 5.3–7.5% of PCSO assessed at
this risk level reoffend with a sexual offense within 5 years
after release from custody. Only three PCSO were assessed
at an above average risk level, corresponding to a sexual
recidivism risk of 13.6% within 5 years (Brankley et al.,
Some interesting patterns emerged from the analyses of the
individual static and dynamic risk factors in this sample of PCSO
in sport. On the one hand, PCSO in this sample seem to have
low risk scores related to markers of antisociality (such as sexual
or non-sexual criminal offense histories, little use of violence
in during their index sexual offenses, low impulsivity, and low
hostility), showed limited emotional congruence with children,
and reported few problems related to sexual preoccupation or
using sexual coping strategies at the time of the assessment.
On the other hand, the majority of this sample of PCSO in
sport showed higher risk scores related to markers of deviant
sexual interests (such as offending against boys, unrelated, and
multiple victims), had significant problems related to intimate
adult relationships, and experienced feelings of social rejection,
which are all risk factors for sexual reoffending.
Interestingly, most PCSO were relatively old (at least 40 or
older) at their time of release. Older age is related to lower
chances of sexual recidivism (Helmus L. et al., 2012). The
relatively old age at time of release within this sample may have
different explanations, such as a late start of offending behavior, a
long time between the start of the sexual offending behavior and
the victims’ disclosures (and thus the start of the judicial process),
the clustering of several sexual offenses against different victims
over the span of several years in the index offense, and/or a long
judicial and treatment process (Rettenberger and Craig, 2017).
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FIGURE 1 | Combined risk categories. Blue: Risk level I, very low risk, which is similar to people with non-sexual criminal histories; Green: Risk level II, below average
risk, which is higher than very low (I) risk profile but lower than average (III); Yellow: Risk level III, average risk level; Orange: Risk level IVa, above average risk, which is
approximately two times the average risk (III); and Red: Risk level IVb, well above average risk, which is approximately three to four times the average risk (III) (Brankley
et al., 2017).
While the PCSO in this sample had no or few known
previous sexual or violent offenses, it should be noted that
these only include officially registered (charges or convictions
of) previous offenses. It is possible that previous offenses were
not reported to the police, and thus not officially registered by
the justice system. Alternatively, some sport organizations prefer
to informally deal with reported transgressive behaviors within
their organizations, which contributes to the hypothesized high
dark number of sexual offenses. Furthermore, CSA, especially
when the person who commits the sexual abuse is known to the
victim, is seldomly a sudden or violent occurrence. The grooming
process, that is commonly described as a precursor to CSA
in sport (Brackenridge, 2001; Owton and Sparkes, 2015), often
includes preparatory behaviors leading up to the offense that
are hardly detectable due to the intimate and secret relationship
of trust that is built between the adult and child. Sport often
includes physically intimate behaviors, during practice, training
or circumstantial activities such as changing and showering,
but these may also provide a guise for transgressive behaviors
and escalation thereof. The further widespread normalization of
physically and sexually transgressive behaviors in sport (Parent
and Fortier, 2018) may also contribute to transgressive behaviors
going unrecognized by victims, guardians, or organizations, or a
further minimization or concealment by sport organizations of
inappropriate behaviors that lead up to the offense.
Poor or inadequate problem-solving skills and impulsivity
may be related to sexual reoffending. Poor cognitive problem-
solving skills might increase the risk of recidivism as this impacts
the capacity for problem and solution evaluation. Impulsivity
may increase recidivism risk if someone does not oversee the
long-term consequences of their behavior, or if someone does
not have adequate skills to inhibit impulsive wants or needs. In
order to be assessed at elevated risk scores on these items on
the STABLE-20007, problems in these areas should be present
across a number of settings apart from the sexual offense. While
poor problem-solving skills and impulsivity are often related to
each other, this sample surprisingly reported almost no problems
related to impulsivity and moderate problems related to problem
solving skills. CSA behaviors can be, but are not necessarily,
impulsive acts (Brackenridge and Fasting, 2005; Mcalinden,
2006). The findings in this study might suggest that the PCSO
in sport of this sample did not commit their sexual offenses
because of problems with impulse control, which would be in
line with previous research that indicates that most sex offending
in sport by people in positions of power is preceded by a
grooming process (Brackenridge and Fasting, 2005; Mcalinden,
2006; Owton and Sparkes, 2015).
The findings that this sample of PCSO included more
participants with one or more male victims than participants
with only female victims was surprising as findings of the
Belgian prevalence study and court files analysis indicated that
the victimization rates of girls and women is higher than of
boys and men (Vertommen et al., 2016; Bruyninckx, 2017).
It is possible that the dark number of sexual victimization
among boys and men in sport is even higher than those of
girls and women, given the greater taboo of disclosure of male-
on-male sexual offending, or, alternatively, the normalization
of sexualized behavior between men (Hartill, 2009). It is not
possible to determine whether the high number of PCSO with
male victims in this sample is a reflection of the sexual gender
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attraction of the PCSO, or due to situational factors. For example,
situational factors might be that boys participate at higher
rates in sport compared to girls (Sport Vlaanderen, 2020), or
there are more situational opportunities for sexual offending
to occur between male coaches and male athletes, for instance
as changing and shower rooms are shared. It is also possible
that sexual victimization of girls is problematized more than
sexual victimization of boys in our society. The downplaying and
minimizing of male sexual victimization may conserve the taboo
around reporting and may lead to less awareness and vigilance
toward boys as possible victims of abuse.
The number of victims identified in the cases of these 16 PCSO
is high, with five victims on average. While the number of victims
is not an unambiguous predictor of recidivism, it might give us
useful information related to the predation of sexual offending.
The high number of victims per PCSO combined with the relative
absence of previous convictions might plausibly indicate there
were multiple opportunities across longer periods of time for
PSCO in sport to offend against several victims, while their
offenses were undetected.
Stigmatization and social rejection of PCSO in sport after
they are arrested, charged, or convicted of a sexual offense
is not uncommon, but nonetheless concerning for the mental
health of PCSO. PCSO suffer stigmatization and rejection of
their sport’s communities (Cortoni et al., 2017). The vignettes of
the 16 PCSO in this sample revealed that many of these people
had a fulfilling social lives that were primarily centered in and
around the sport club predating the offense. When CSA cases are
disclosed or reported to official authorities, leading to criminal
investigations and possible convictions, this has a major impact
on the individual and social life of the person who is accused
of CSA. Not surprisingly, the risk assessment also indicated
problems in the social areas of the PCSO in this sample, even
though results seemed somewhat contradictory: when assessing
the social contacts of PCSO, it was found that most of the
PCSO in this sample still have sufficient positive and/or neutral
social influences, indicating they are sufficiently embedded in
a social structure. However, their perceived social isolation or
rejection scores indicates that most of them do not feel adequately
embedded and experience some form of insufficiency of their
social life. This might reflect the possible loss of a widespread
social network via the sport organization. It should be noted that
such dynamic risk factors can change over time and could have
been different at the time of the offense.
It is important to note that some of the established general
risk factors for sexual reoffending are not present in this sample.
Hostility toward women was not notably present in this sample
and is likely more closely related to sexual offenses against adult
women than to sexual offenses against children. Also, there were
few signs of sexual preoccupation and sexual coping, which
indicate problems related to sexual regulation and being able to
deal with stressful emotions in a non-sexual way. We should note,
however, that these items were scored at the time of assessment
and not retrospectively at the time of the offense. It is possible
that these scores have changed over time, for instance through
treatment interventions, and would have a higher (or lower)
score if they were assessed at the time of offense.
Recommendations for Prevention of CSA
in Sport
The findings in this study show that PCSO in sport, just like
PCSO in general, are not a homogenous group. It is also clear that
this sample of PCSO in sport score lower on the antisocial factors
and do not have extensive criminal histories. On the contrary,
looking at their social embedding, the PCSO in this sample
appear to be largely normally functioning, socially accepted
people with often significant roles in the sport organization.
While there are no rational reasons for not performing a criminal
record check on all adults working with children in sport, we
should be acutely aware of its limited effectiveness. A criminal
record check does not provide protection against people who
will commit their first offense, or people who have committed
offenses that are not reported or noticed by the justice system
(Abrams and Bartlett, 2019). The PCSO in sport of this sample
had indeed often committed multiple sexual offenses against
multiple victims that remained undetected for a long time.
Prevention efforts for CSA are generally divided into three
types: primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention. While
definitions differ, researchers such as Wortley and Smallbone
(Wortley and Smallbone, 2006) define primary prevention and
secondary prevention as having the purpose of preventing
CSA before it occurs. Primary prevention focuses on the
general population or sub-groups of the general population,
and secondary prevention focuses on specific groups at risk.
Tertiary prevention on the other hand is aimed at preventing
the reoccurence CSA by focussing on individuals who have
engaged in sexual offending against children (Smallbone et al.,
2008; Knack et al., 2019). Primary and secondary prevention
strategies are most useful when combatting sexual violence in
sport, as we are often not even aware of CSA in sport, and
as we want to prevent children in sport for being victimized
in the first place. This is why prevention efforts cannot solely
focus on tertiary efforts, Empowering athletes, coaches, and their
entourage by educating them about adequate communication
about sexual integrity, personal boundaries, and respect will
have more far-reaching impact than investing in reactive
measures only (e.g., criminal background checks). Involving all
stakeholders in sport in primary prevention initiatives, such
as proper awareness raising, educational activities about codes
of conduct, and information on the availability of reporting
mechanisms, will not only empower athletes, but also stimulate
bystanders to appropriately intervene when necessary. The
clear and safe availability of reporting mechanisms, safety
procedures, and local points of contact, as part of the secondary
prevention strategy, might lower the threshold to report or
disclose sexual misconduct (Mathews et al., 2016). The world
of sport shows to be a conducive climate for all sorts of
integrity violations. Situational factors at the organizational
level, e.g., changing and shower rooms, hotel rooms, car
drives, or time spent alone between a coach and a young
athlete all create ample practical opportunities for abuse to
take place. Sport organizations should undergo continuous
evaluations and subsequent behavioral adjustments to minimize
these potentially risky situations (Wortley and Smallbone,
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Available helplines for people who experience deviant sexual
thoughts or worry about their own behaviors, and for people who
are worried about other people’s behavior, such as Stop it Now!
(Horn et al., 2015) should be more thoroughly promoted in the
sport context. By offering help to people who are worried about
themselves, and by spotting signs of abuse early and starting a
conversation, (potential) CSA can be prematurely detected and
stopped. It is not up to the sport organization to reinvent the
wheel, as general secondary and tertiary prevention services for
people who are (potentially) victimized or who are perpetrating
transgressive behaviors have adequate tools available. Investing
in open communication about risks, responsibilities, and safety
of children requires a shift in mentality and a willingness
to acknowledge the everlasting need of child protection
in sport.
Tertiary prevention focuses specifically on preventing PCSO
from reoffending. Banning all PCSO from sport forever could
theoretically prevent this population from reoffending in the
sport context, but practically is not manageable or controllable.
Also, denying all convicted PCSO to return to sport is not a
waterproof method to prevent sexual offenses from happening, as
those who reoffend only make up a small portion of the total of
offenses that take place. The lifelong ban of PCSO from sport also
means their social reintegration is significantly stunted, which
may lead to a lack of meaningful professional or leisure activities,
social rejection, loneliness, lack of positive social contacts,
isolation, and stigmatization, which are all related to an increased
risk of recidivism (de Vries Robbé et al., 2015). Recidivism
models, such as the Good-Lives-Model, stress the importance of
meaningful life goals and working toward positive and healthy
ways to meet personal needs (Ward and Brown, 2004). Taking
away protective factors, such as positive social contacts and
meaningful activities, can lead to an accumulation or acceleration
of factors related to reoffending risk. Formulating a strategy
in which reintegration in sport is possible, but controlled (e.g.,
not in a coaching role, only working with adult athletes, always
having someone else in the room, under strict conditions
of social control mechanisms) provides more opportunities
to balance the vulnerable equilibrium between both societal
and individual interests of reintegration. However, fewer risks
of reoffending and an increased embeddedness of people
who have committed sexual offenses within society eventually
decreases risks of reoffending and increases safety for everyone.
Unfortunately, thorough public debate about safe reintegration
of PCSO in sport is currently hindered by negative or false
beliefs about sexual recidivism rates and other stigmatizing
myths about this population. A better understanding of the risks
and needs of this population would help us to develop safe
reintegration strategies.
While this research brings new insights to research into sexual
offending in sport, it also has several limitations that should be
considered. This case study is based on a select sample of Belgian,
adult, and male PCSO who are or were in treatment in two
outpatient forensic treatment facilities in Belgium. This selection
creates bias in several ways: PCSO who are convicted might
be different from PCSO who are not prosecuted or convicted;
the recidivism risk of people in forensic outpatient treatment
facilities should in principle be lower compared to people in
inpatient treatment or prisons; and it is possible this sample
had received previous treatment in detention or in inpatient
facilities. The generalizability of the characteristics of this small
and heterogeneous sample and their concurrent risk assessment
is therefore limited.
This sample only included adult, male, PCSO. While previous
studies suggest that a significant portion of sexually transgressive
behavior in sport is perpetrated by peer athletes, minors are
not treated at the facilities where participants were recruited,
and this sample therefore did not include minors. Further, no
women in the treatment facilities met the inclusion criteria of
this study. Little is known about the prevalence and severity of
sexual offending perpetrated by women, even less so within the
sport context. The Dutch-Belgian anonymous self-report study
indicated that up to 12% of sexual violence against boys in sport
is perpetrated by women, but these numbers are not reflected
in official or clinical records (Vertommen et al., 2017). Women
who have sexually offended only make up 1–2% of all people
involved within the justice system for sexual offending (Cortoni
et al., 2017). By necessity of the sample and the literature, this
paper was also limited to adult, male PCSO in sport. However,
the sport organizations and scientific field at large should
acknowledge that female-perpetrated and peer-perpetrated
sexually transgressive behavior constitutes a significant problem
in sport and should make an effort to research this with
more attention.
In terms of prevention, the static risk factors may give more
insight into the mechanisms of CSA in sport compared to
the dynamic risks, considering the high prevalence of multiple
victims, and the often-long duration between the first offense and
conviction. This might indicate that CSA in sport goes unnoticed
and undetected for a long time. The dynamic risk factors are
dynamic and thus changeable in treatment. This means these
scores do not represent a “profile” of PCSO in sport, nor do
they represent the state of the dynamic risk factors at the time
of offense, but rather describe the state of that specific person
under their specific, current conditions. These results cannot
be used to build personality profiles or be used as a basis for
selection and screening in sport staff positions. Other specific
possible risk factors connected to the sport context, e.g., harsh
training conditions and authoritarian coaching styles (Cense and
Brackenridge, 2001), are not included in the risk assessment tools,
but may be valuable in further investigation of the problem of
CSA in sport.
We cannot emphasize enough that performing a forensic risk
assessment is not a valid element of general screening in sport
practice. It may lead to a false feeling of safety. Recidivism risk
assessment is only valid to measure recidivism, i.e., re-offending,
and does not measure someone’s propensity to commit a first
offense. These tools are developed to use in clinical practice to
align treatment needs and judicial supervision of a PCSO with
the recidivism risk that was assessed. The tools are developed to
assess the recidivism risk of individuals and are not applicable
for all people working in sport. Knowing that the vast majority
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Vertommen et al. Risk Factors of CSA in Sport
of people who sexually offend are seen for the first time by the
justice system (McGrath et al., 2011), these tools do not provide
insights to use in a wider population.
Last, it is important to note that the researchers who
completed the risk assessment used all available case file
information but were not able to perform interviews with the
PCSO. In common clinical practice, the assessor uses both case
file information as well as an interview with the person.
There is not one distinctive profile of “the” person that
commits child sexual offenses, not in general society and not
in sport specifically. The PCSO in sport in this sample were
not the “mean, evil, creepy monsters” with many antisocial
traits, as often depicted in the public discourse. People
who are working in youth sport are often social and well-
functioning adults who are socially embedded, integrated,
and well-respected within their sport organization. While the
analyses showed some prevalent risk factors, the overall expected
level of sexual recidivism in this sample was lower than
often assumed. These findings reiterate the importance of
general primary and secondary prevention in sport and society
at large.
The data analyzed in this study is subject to the
following licenses/restrictions: Original data is owned
by the forensic treatment centers. Requests to access
these datasets should be directed to Tine Vertommen,
The study protocol was submitted to and cleared by the Ethics
Commission of the University of Antwerp (code 16/50/550).
TV: substantial contributions to the conception and design
of the review, responsible for data collection, with support
of undergraduate research students, analysis and interpretation
of data, manuscript writing, revising of the manuscript, and
final approval of the version to be published. HV: substantial
contributions to the conception and design of the review,
analysis and interpretation of data, manuscript writing, revising
of the manuscript, and final approval of the version to
be published. FM and MD: substantial contributions to the
analysis and interpretation of data, manuscript writing, revising
of the manuscript, and final approval of the version to be
published. All authors contributed to the article and approved the
submitted version.
The authors thank the clinicians of the forensic treatment centers
for their help in accessing the data, and their supervision and
cross-examination of the risk assessment analysis. The authors
also thank the four undergraduate students at Thomas More who
assisted in the data collection process.
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Conflict of Interest: The authors declare that the research was conducted in the
absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a
potential conflict of interest.
Copyright © 2021 Vertommen, Verhelle, Martijn and De Boeck. This is an open-
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Frontiers in Sports and Active Living | 14 July 2021 | Volume 3 | Article 624548
... More recent evidence has demonstrated that athlete peers or teammates are also perpetrators of harassment and abuse in sport [56], especially male athletes in informal groups [58]. A study by Vertommen et al. (2021) identified the risk factors for sexual recidivism in sport, such as deviant sexual behavior, the absence of an intimate relationship, and male victims [59]. A scoping review identified the risk factors for harassment and abuse in the coach-athlete relationship including closeness, power, blurred boundaries, and ambiguous roles [60]. ...
... More recent evidence has demonstrated that athlete peers or teammates are also perpetrators of harassment and abuse in sport [56], especially male athletes in informal groups [58]. A study by Vertommen et al. (2021) identified the risk factors for sexual recidivism in sport, such as deviant sexual behavior, the absence of an intimate relationship, and male victims [59]. A scoping review identified the risk factors for harassment and abuse in the coach-athlete relationship including closeness, power, blurred boundaries, and ambiguous roles [60]. ...
Sports participation can result in many health benefits for participants. However, scientific research shows that harassment and abuse during sport occur in all sports and at all levels. There are four forms of harassment and abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, and neglect. The impacts of harassment and abuse in sport can be devastating and long-lasting for both victims and sports organizations. One common impact of harassment and abuse is the development of mental health symptoms and disorders including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, substance misuse, and suicidal ideation.Safe sport is the responsibility of all stakeholders in sport. Athletes have the right to a safe sporting environment, where their human rights are respected. A multilayered, multisystem approach to prevention is required. Team physicians play an important role in the prevention of harassment and abuse and should have the clinical competence to recognize the subtle signs and symptoms of abuse, manage athlete disclosures, and treat and support victim impacts. A thorough assessment of all athletes presenting with mental health symptoms should include inquiry about the presence, or past occurrence, of harassment and abuse within, or outside of sport, realizing that safe sport is an important component of protecting the mental health and well-being of athletes.KeywordsSafeguardingHarassmentAbuseMental healthElite sport
Full-text available
Although dynamic risk factors are considered important in the assessment and treatment of adult male sex offenders, little is known about their interrelationships. We apply network analysis to assess their associations and to provide an analysis of their shortest pathways to sexual and violent (including sexual contact) recidivism. Analyses revealed a central position for general rejection/loneliness (in all networks), poor cognitive problem solving (in networks containing sexual or violent—including sexual contact—recidivism), and impulsive acts (only in the network including sexual recidivism). These variables represented links between clusters of dynamic risk factors composed of factors relating to sexual self-regulation, emotionally intimate relationships, antisocial traits, and self-management. Impulsive acts showed the strongest independent association with sexual and violent (including sexual contact) recidivism.
Full-text available
“You can reach the top, but only if you trust me”. Victim perspectives on perpetrator characteristics of child sexual abuse in sport Driven by the public disclosure of high-profile child sexual abuse cases, political and scientific attention for violence against children in sport has recently increased. Up until today, the evidence base is grounded in quantitative self-report studies with athletes, and mainly focusses on the prevalence and risk factors of sexual abuse. Narrative research on the topic is scarce and little is known about perpetrator characteristics and interpersonal dynamics. In this study, we analyzed the lived experiences of nine victim-survivors of chronic child sexual abuse in Flemish sport. Using their narratives, we looked for perpetrator characteristics and behaviours leading on to and during the abuse. The offenders were all male, older than the victim and in a position of authority. Interviewees mentioned several opportunities, created in the sport environment, for the abuse to be prepared, initiated and continued over a long period of time, including installing trust, secrecy, dependency and threat. Analyzing survivors’ voices not only brings new insights, but also allows for acknowledgement, advanced meaning making and stronger prevention in the world of sport. Keywords: sexual violence, sexual offenders, victim narratives Kernwoorden: seksueel geweld, seksuele plegers, slachtoffergetuigenissen
In modern forensic psychology, there are basically three different methodological approaches to risk assessment: unstructured clinical judgment, actuarial risk assessment instruments (ARAIs), and structured professional judgment (SPJ). The Static‐99 is the ARAI most commonly used and best validated for individuals convicted of sexual offenses. The Sex Offender Risk Appraisal Guide (SORAG) is conceptualized to assess the violent recidivism risk, which includes sexual offenses involving physical contact with the victim, for individuals convicted of sexual offenses. Dynamic risk factors—sometimes also called criminogenic needs or psychologically meaningful risk factors—are the core construct of third‐generation instruments. The SVR‐20 is the most commonly used SPJ instrument for the risk assessment of individuals convicted of sexual offenses. The Risk for Sexual Violence Protocol (RSVP) is a set of professional guidelines for the assessment of the risk of sexual violence using different risk factors from different risk domains.
Aim: This study was undertaken to evaluate and quantify the potential impacts of the adoption of the Council of State Governments' five-level system for risk communication, in a community based program for the treatment of persons who have sexually offended (PSO). Method: A clinical database of Static-99R and STABLE-2007 risk scores, obtained from 165 male PSO, was used to assign ordinal, categorical risk ratings, using the outgoing system and the new five-level system. Results: Overall, higher ordinal risk ratings (i.e., categorical labels describing relative placement in ascending risk levels) were assigned using the new system. The differences were statistically significant, based on Wilcoxon signed-rank tests. Conclusions: The results suggested that application of the new system to guide resource allocation could result in a substantial increase in resource outlay, and the number of individuals referred for interventions. Professionals may consider these results in applying the new system to their work with PSO.
Technical Report
This is the 2016 revision of the coding rules for Static-99R. It is available on the website
Empathy is regarded as dynamic risk factor of child sexual offending. However, empathy research in the context of child sexual abuse suffers from various problems. First, prior studies failed to differentiate between pedophilic and nonpedophilic sexual offenders. Second, there is no distinction made between cognitive and affective empathy. Third, cognitive and affective empathy toward emotional states of specific age groups (children and adults) has not been adequately addressed. The current study tackles these shortcomings investigating offending and nonoffending pedophiles and multiple aspects of empathy using self-reports and objective behavioral measures. Participants included 85 pedophilic men who committed hands-on child sexual offenses (P+CSO), 72 pedophilic men who never committed hands-on child sexual offenses (P-CSO), and 128 nonoffending teleiophilic male controls (TC). Several affective and cognitive aspects of empathy were assessed using the Multifaceted Empathy Test (MET) and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). Whereas in self-reports (IRI) P+CSO scored lower than TC (P-CSO intermediate) in cognitive perspective-taking abilities, a performance-based measure (MET) revealed evidence for a better differentiation of emotional states in P-CSO as compared with P+CSO (TC intermediate). In addition, P+CSO and P-CSO showed significantly higher affective resonance while observing children (MET), which was paralleled by higher self-reported levels of personal distress in social situations (IRI). The results indicate evidence for higher general affective empathic resonance to children in pedophilic men but superior cognitive empathy abilities in nonoffending pedophiles only, which may act as a protective factor in the prevention of sexual offending. Together, these findings underline the importance of accounting for multiple facets of empathy when targeting pedophilia and child sexual offending.