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National media coverage of the VOICE project in Belgium

Tine Vertommen, project leader for Belgium, was interviewed by a national newspaper (Het Nieuwsblad) about the VOICE project. Tine gives some examples of sexual harassment and abuse in sport and some background information on the VOICE project. The article also makes reference to her important prevalence study on sexual violence against children in sport, from which it is clear that sexual violence is a problem in Flemish sport.

The newspaper also published the call for interview participants, emphasizing the need for better prevention initiatives that will be built based on the experiences of survivors of sexual violence in sport and interviews are now underway. The article concludes by noting that the VOICE project has received the full support of the Flemish minister of sport who says that his administration has already implemented some preventive measures.

Tine Vertommen
Tine Vertommen

Swimmer Karen Leach talks about surviving childhood abuse

My name is Karen Leach, I’m from Ireland. Between the ages of 10 to 17 I spent most of my time training in a swimming pool, competing at national and international level. My dream was to swim for Ireland at the Olympic Games. I loved swimming, I loved my sport, and nothing else mattered to me at that age. My dream came at a very high price.

My Irish Olympic coach abused me mentally, physically, emotionally and sexually. He destroyed my childhood and for many years after that my life was hell on earth because of the deep pain and hurt within me. What happened in swimming in Ireland must never happen again – everyone must know the truth and protect children in sport.

I am 47 years old now, free from all that pain and hurt. I have healed my life. I found a way to have peace of mind. I am now a qualified Psychotherapist and Counsellor working with people to help them be free from their pain and sadness.

I know what it is like to be in a very dark, sad, lonely, frightening place, too scared to tell anyone – JUST IN CASE. My Message to you is – Please Speak, use your voice, tell someone, start your path to freedom, get help. It will get better but you need others to help you. It is too hard on your own.

Today I am a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse. You can be too.

Your Voice, Your Life, Your Truth

Karen Leach is a former swimmer with the Kings Hospital Swimming club in Dublin, Ireland and has spoken out about the effects of her abuse by Irish Olympic coach Derry O’Rourke. Karen is a very articulate and powerful advocate for the prevention of abuse in sport and the importance of child welfare policies and procedures. Karen has spoken at various conferences – the ‘Sexual Harassment and Abuse in Sports’ European Conference in Berlin, The Irish Sports Council of Ireland, Swim Ireland, Football Association of Ireland and many more.

Karen was involved in the writing of the book DEEP DECEPTION; she shared some of her story and decided to go public when the book was released. Karen has spoken out and is now a qualified Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Family Systems Therapist and Choice Theory Facilitator. Karen can be contacted via:


The University of Vic- University Central of Catalonia (UVic-UCC) and the Catalan Sport Council (CSC) are very proud of actively participating and contributing to the VOICE project.

The UVic-UCC is one of the partners of VOICE and through it Spain is involved in this tremendously important issue in sport. For Spain to be able to gather qualitative data on sexual violence in sport represents a huge advance in understanding the in-depth roots and mechanisms through which this despicable practice takes part in Spanish sport. With no doubt this intense and rigorous inquiry will have a future impact on child protection policies in sport in Spain.

For the UVic-UCC being part of VOICE represents a unique opportunity to advance the research on sexual violence in sport. It also helps the university researchers to become experts in Spain on a very sensitive topic that not many parties are willing to recognise and work on.

The CSC has a goal of promoting humanistic values through sport such as respect and non-discrimination. For this reason VOICE’s aims fit well into the overall CSC aim of promoting a kind of sport which always takes place in a safe environment, which respects children’s and youth’s rights and which does not forget child and youth dignity in this world. The CSC has been supporting UVic-UCC research in preventing sexual violence in sport since 2014.

The CSC considers it important to raise awareness among all the agents implicated in sport in order to guarantee sport practices free of harassment and violence related to sex and sexual orientation. This is why CSC strongly believes in the need to implement efficient strategies on prevention, detection and eradication. Foremost the CSC supports and has supported for years a variety of actions which have as a pursuit to prevent sexual harassment in sport. These actions go from supporting research projects on the issue to also supporting formative actions and disseminating guides, articles and organising formative days by Catalan as well as International organisations.

Spain_UVic UCC logo (2)

sports coach UK supporting VOICE

sports coach UK is the UK agency for sports coaching. David Turner, the Coaching Children Lead, said: “sports coach UK are excited to be supporting the VOICE project and Edge Hill University. Our 20 year relationship with the NSPCC has led to over 400,000 sports coaches being trained in Safeguarding and Protecting Children. We feel that hearing the voices of those who have suffered from sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse in sport is a powerful way of helping to protect future generations from these experiences and offering opportunities for all children, young people and adults to participate in sport and physical activity in a safe and enjoyable environment.” Dr Mike Hartill (Edge Hill University) responded: “sports coach UK have demonstrated a long-term commitment to creating safe sport environments as well as developing and sharing knowledge on this difficult and important topic so we are very grateful for their support and the expertise they bring to the project”.


Specialist support within Voice

The experience of telling your story can be very difficult and we want to ensure that your participation in this research is a positive experience. We will explain and discuss very carefully what is involved in the research and we will ask for your consent to undertake research with you.

We also want to ensure that you can access specialist support services should you wish to do so, before, during or after the research.

Led by Sheila Taylor MBE, NWG Network is a central partner and has a great deal of experience working with victims of sexual exploitation and abuse. It has a range of expertise to draw upon as well as a very strong network of specialist organisations that offer crucial support services in this area.

In addition, each partner organisation is also partnered by a victim-support organisation in their own country. Further details of this can be accessed via the individual lead researcher for each partner.

University of Southern Denmark

Over the past decade, the University of Southern Denmark has been involved in a number of European partnership projects relating to child protection, sexualized violence and elite athlete safety.

The current project is founded on the ongoing efforts and existing networks between researchers, sport NGOs and child protection agencies.

The VOICE project allows the network to expand the international ties and collaboration to include a wider audience of athletes and sport governing bodies. The involvement in VOICE is also an opportunity for sharing and developing knowledge across the European research and sporting community.

In a national and international perspective the joint European work is expected to yield new insights into a highly sensitive and important topic. The issue of child sexual harassment and abuse in organized sport surfaced in 1997, but became a real topic in Denmark around 1998-2000 when increased documentation of the phenomenon grew from both research and media attention relating to a number sexual abuse cases in and outside of sport.

A TV-documentary in 2000 illustrated just how easy it was for sex offenders with a criminal record to gain access to children in sport. This prompted further action. Between 2000 and 2005 case handling procedures and legislation gradually developed to help Danish sport organizations deal with the problem.

The three national sport organizations in Denmark and the University of Southern Denmark strongly supports the ongoing focus on the prevention and handling procedures relating to sexual violence and discrimination in sport. The VOICE project is expected to provide increased awareness and understanding among a wider audience of sport practitioners as well as in society at large.

Jan Toftegaard Støckel
Associate Professor, Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics


The Youth Organisation of the European Non-Governmental Sports Organisation:

Why is ENGSO Youth participating in the VOICE project?
We participate in the VOICE project because child´s welfare is an important topic for sports clubs.

Why is VOICE important for ENGSO Youth?
As an umbrella organization of Europe´s sport federations we want to give new impulses for the work with children and young kids. Especially the new view on qualitative interviews with those affected by sexual harassment can give new insights into better prevention concepts. Besides this, the most important point for us is to create some kind of resource toolkit to directly address our clubs with new support.

When and how did ENGSO Youth begin work on combatting sexual violence in sport?
We started to work on combatting sexual violence in sports with the EU project ‘Sport Respects Your Rights’ (2013-15), in which young ambassadors were educated to promote this important topic to their national sport federations. We are very happy to continue this work as a partner of the VOICE project.

Michael Leyendecker

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