Child sexual abuse survivors struggle for justice as small sporting organizations are slow to sign up to the National Redress Scheme

Karen* was a dynamo on the softball field.

A happy child, who loved the game and her teammates, and was “totally focused on winning a gold medal”.

So, when she was singled out and made to feel special about her ability by a coach, she didn’t see anything but encouragement.

“I had no clue grooming was a thing,” Karen said.

“I was completely oblivious.

“I didn’t see anything wrong in what was happening.”

Karen was 14 years old when she first met the person she says groomed her over several years, before the situation turned sexual.

She’d been flattered by phone calls and letters and encouraged to move interstate for her sport.

But then she found herself under someone else’s control, and was even forced to lie to her parents about the situation.

“It was almost as though a switch was turned off and from that moment any relationship with anybody … was just wrong because there was this lie,” she said.

‘They said they didn’t have insurance for that’

Karen eventually found her way out of the situation and built a new life, but the anguish of the grooming and abuse resurfaced when her own child started playing softball.

And that’s when she says she hit a brick wall.

Karen says the person who abused her was an Australian softball coach, and she believes Softball Australia is liable.

Softball Australia was not part of the National Redress Scheme set up after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, so she sought help from lawyers for a civil claim.

But she has accused the organization of stonewalling.

“They were approached and they pretty much denied any responsibility,” she said.

“They said they didn’t have insurance for these sorts of things and there was nothing they could really do.”

Karen says she was blocked in her bid for redress when she approached Softball Australia. (ABC News: Nicholas Coleman)

The National Redress Scheme says Softball Australia is now in the process of joining and has been included in a list of hundreds of others who have lodged an interest in being part of the scheme.

But lawyer Simon Brook from KnowMore, who works with survivors of child sexual abuse who are trying to get access to the scheme, says it remains a problem that some of the smaller sports have not signed up until now.

“Unfortunately, it is a serious issue and it seems to be widespread across a number of sports,” he said.

He has suggested there could be some encouragement.

“The Australian government could consider further options for encouraging sport institutions to sign up to the National Redress Scheme,” he said.

‘Zero tolerance’ for behavior that puts young people at risk

But while Softball Australia is still working its way forward to join the redress scheme, it has taken other steps to deal with any contemporary allegations.

In a statement, the organization says it has zero tolerance for any behavior that puts the well-being of children and young people at risk.

“Softball Australia has a dedicated senior staff member to handle member complaints, and any complaint – whether historical or contemporary – must be treated in a timely and sensitive manner,” the statement outlined.

The organization also says it has adopted the National Integrity Framework, which aims to protect children in sport and is run through Sport Integrity Australia.

Sport Integrity Australia is better known for its drug monitoring, but now has a child protection policy, which includes a tribunal system.

Girl holding a softball bat.
Karen says a softball coach started grooming her when she was just 14. (Supplied)

For Karen, nothing can change the past, but she says some things could make a difference.

“An apology would be amazing, for myself and my family, my parents,” she said.

“So I could move forward.”

And she has a message for any young players and their families about the warning signs to watch out for.

“That special attention [or] being singled out, especially in a team kind of environment,” she said.

“If it doesn’t feel right and if someone is telling you to lie about something.

“It’s something that is very difficult to get out of, once it’s started.”

* Karen has chosen not to include her surname in this story.

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