Memphis Sexual Assault Lawyers Filing Claims against Coaches and Athletic Organizations

Protecting student and amateur athletes in West Tennessee

Parents place their trust in coaches. That trust means that parents have the right to expect that schools and organizations will vet their coaching staff for any indicators of prior sexual assaults or sexual misconduct. Trust means responding immediately to any complaints by students or adults. Trust also means creating procedures so that children are comfortable talking to someone when any sexual misconduct occurs.

At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, our sexual assault attorneys have been fighting for survivors in Memphis, Jackson and throughout West Tennessee since 1986. We help your child athlete obtain the proper medical care and emotional care he or she needs. We work to hold any coaches who commit sexual assault against your child accountable. We also fight to hold schools, school districts, and organizations that should have monitored and supervised their coaching staff liable when they failed to put your child’s safety first. Call us today to learn more.

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The scope of the coaching sexual abuse problem

The public cases of football coach Jerry Sandusky and gymnastics coach Larry Nassar have made headlines for their convictions for sexual offenses. Their crimes, sadly, are not uncommon. Many coaches, according to a recent New York Times story, double as teachers, community leaders, and religious leaders – which gives them even more authority over a student. “The alleged abuse precipitated a lifetime of toxic relationships, substance abuse and other woes.”

It happens here in Tennessee, too. Vocal coach Laurence “Buzzy” Orange “was charged with 10 counts of rape and 11 counts of aggravated sexual battery” in September 2019. In another example, a member of the Tennessee General Assembly confirmed he would not seek reelection after struggling for more than a year with accusations of sexual assault from his days coaching high school basketball.

While athletics coaches tend to make newspaper headlines, any kind of coach can be an abuser: music coaches, dance coaches, life coaches, etc. Students of all ages are at risk.

What is sexual grooming?

The non-profit organization Darkness to Light defines grooming as “a deliberate process by which offenders gradually initiate and maintain sexual relationships with victims in secrecy.” An abuser chooses a specific child – a star athlete, the new kid in the troupe, a child with disabilities or other special needs – and works towards gaining the trust of the child and his or her guardians. This can include spending more time with the child and his or her family, giving the child special attention, or offering “help” in tough situations. The goal is to make the child believe that he or she is “special” in some way to the abuser. Eventually, the abuser will sexualize the relationship, using threats and coercion to ensure that it remains secret, and manipulating the child into believing he or she is powerless to control it.

In a student/coach situation, red flags for child grooming could look like:

  • Extra one-on-one coaching time
  • Placing the student in key positions that he or she may not be best suited to have
  • Gifts of expensive equipment, instruments, costumes, etc.
  • Special trips to see professional games, sports, productions, etc.
  • Constant physical contact, especially when it’s not necessary
  • Contacting the child online or via text

Many sexual abuse victims are used to respecting what their coaches say. Often coaches preach that the team or group is “family,” and will use this line to manipulate the child – after all, no kid wants to let down the family, right?

Liability for sexual abuse by coaches in Memphis

For starters, the coach himself/herself is accountable for any sexual abuse or misconduct. Schools, school districts, and community organizations such as the local Little League or a local gymnastics club may be also be held liable if they were negligent. Acts of negligence can include:

  • Failing to conduct a background check on the coach
  • Failing to respond to complaints by other students or parents about the coach’s conduct
  • Failing to provide a procedure for a student to complain about sexual abuse by a coach

Schools that refuse to investigate complaints of abuse or hide evidence of sexual abuse may also be liable – civilly and criminally.

Tennessee Codes §37-1-403 and §37-1-605 outline the process for reporting known or suspected abuse by mandated reporters. This can include doctors, teachers, school and health officials, mental health workers and social workers, authority figures, and others.

Title IX and sexual abuse

The National Federation of State High School Associations states that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 applies to elementary and secondary schools (and colleges and universities) that receive federal financial assistance. The law covers a range of improper conduct including sexual harassment and sexual violence of both females and males.

Title IX requires “schools to implement strategies to safeguard students from such behavior perpetrated by school personnel or peers and requiring schools to effectively address such misconduct when it occurs on campus or in connection with any educational or extracurricular program.”

Based on a US Supreme Court case, schools and school personnel can be held strictly liable (automatically liable without the need to prove negligence) for “sexual harassment against a student when someone in a position to take remedial action has knowledge that the harassment is occurring and exhibits deliberate indifference to correcting the situation.” Schools must create sexual abuse policies, processes for reporting abuse, methods for investigating abuse, and ways to resolve disputes to protect their students.

The Safe Sport Act

The Safe Sport Act was enacted in 2017 requires that all amateur sports organizations promptly report sexual abuse of minors and amateur athletes to law enforce authorities.

Section 102 of the law provides that victims can file a personal injury action, regardless of whether they were a minor at the time of the injury, in federal court. Damages include $150,000, reasonable legal fees, and other reasonable litigation costs. Punitive damages may also be awarded along with other “preliminary and equitable relief.”

If your child was abused by a coach in West Tennessee, contact Bailey & Greer, PLLC for help

At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, we understand the severity of sexual abuse cases. We work with psychologists and other health counselors to help your child through the litigation process and to help your child learn to function and enjoy life again. If your child’s coach committed an act of sexual abuse or assault, we want to help you seek justice. Please call us in Memphis or Jackson at 901-680-9777 or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation.

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