Council of Europe: Conference on sexual violence against women and children
Helsinki, 29th and 30th of April 2019 - The Finnish Presidency of the Council of Europe organized an expert conference on sexual violence against women and children in sport in Helsinki on 29th and 30th April in the context of the enlarged partial agreement on sport (EPAS), which gathered around 80 experts, policy makers and representatives of sports organizations.
Studies show that sexual violence affects one in five children in Europe and that one in three victims does not talk about it. 80% of the perpetrators also come from the child's circle of trust. The sport is not an exception in society, but the lack of data on exact numbers in sports is a great challenge.
The first day began with a panel discussion with Gerda Katschinka, committee member of ENGSO Youth, Baroness Doreen Massey, Council of Europe, Sylvain Crouteau, Sport’ Aide Canada. Emma Terho, member of the IOC Athletes Committee, Paola Ottonello, European Commission, and Tineke Sonck, herself a victim of sexual abuse and co-founder of the Belgian NGO "Voices in Sports". In particular, the statements of Tineke Sonck, who described her personal experience of abuse, were very impressive.
Gerda Katschinka stressed, that “it is crucial for ENGSO Youth to promote children’s’ rights and to enable children to participate in the decision making about their sports. Sport organizations which want to proactively prevent sexual violence against children should include the engagement of children – their voices – in all aspects of their work. A UK research shows that even where a system of child protection and training is well established within the sports organization, adults are often reluctant to discuss relevant issues with young people. Important knowledge is being withheld from children that may empower them.”
The panel agreed that cooperation and coordination between different actors is needed to combat sexual abuse and violence in sport. Unfortunately, sensitization and awareness of this issue is still a taboo in some countries. Codes of conduct were also considered as an important measure. The panelists also agreed that it was even more important to establish a clear system of sanctions and monitoring mechanisms in associations, since codes of conduct alone would otherwise have no substance. At the end of the first day, Elda Moreno, Head of the Children's Rights and Sports Values Department of the Council of Europe on the Council of Europe's flagship initiative: "Start to Talk", a campaign and call on the authorities and the sport to stop child abuse.
Left to right: Elda Moreno (Council of Europe), Paula Ottonello (Europ. Comission), Gerda Katschinka (ENGSO Youth), Baroness Doreen Massay (Council of Europe), Tineke Sonck (Voices), Emma Terho (IOC and WADA Athletes Committee), Sylvain Croteau (Sport’Aide Canada).
At the beginning of the second day, Mike Hartill (Edge Hill University, UK) and Kari Fasting (Norwegian School of Sports Science and Equal Rights in Sports) presented facts about sexual violence in sport. Both emphasized that the lack of pan-European data on the subject as a major challenge. Information would only be available in a few European countries. This was followed by interesting practical examples of sports organizations, where Håvard B. Øvregård from the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee (NIF) and Jaakko Luumi from the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation shared their experiences. The NIF has been systematically working to combat this phenomenon in sport for many years. In his observations, Mr Øvregård emphasized the importance of effective reporting and sanctioning measures: "The statement of having a zero tolerance does not mean anything if there are no effective procedures for responding to the reported cases."
The telephone hotline "You Are Not Alone" presented by Luumi is a concrete example of setting up a reporting mechanism. This helpline was set up by the Finnish Ice Hockey Association together with some Finnish expert organizations. Through this hotline, people experiencing improper behavior in a sport can receive phone or online chat support. The second day ended with hands-on workshops moderated by Deputy Director of the EOC EU Office, Heidi Pekkola. In these workshops experiences and ideas on supportive measures and facilitated discussions on care systems, codes of conduct, risk minimization, educational programs and protection strategy were exchanged. In the lively discussions, many practical examples and ideas for the conclusion of the two-day conference were exchanged.
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