“You are very special you know”: sexual abuse and the grooming process in sport

Owton, Helen and Sparkes, Andrew (2015). “You are very special you know”: sexual abuse and the grooming process in sport. In: BPS Psychology of Women Section Annual Conference, 8-10 Jul 2015, Cumberland Lodge, Windsor.


This paper seeks to show the grooming process in action and the subtle ways the triangulated relationship advances in order for a coach to act on their intent to abuse an athlete in their care. Through a process of collaborative autoethnography we explore the experiences of one female athlete named Bella who was groomed and then sexually abused by her male coach. Bella’s experiences of abuse in sport are portrayed through the use of vignettes and poems in an attempt to show how the structural conditions and intricate power relationships embedded in competitive sporting environments, specifically the power invested in the coach, provide a unique socio-cultural context that offer a number of potentialities for sexual abuse and exploitation to take place. We hope that Bella’s story offers a greater understanding to generate potent insights to the female experience of abuse as lived and felt in the flesh to stimulate ethical discussions of the implications of sexual abuse in sport by assisting those involved to better understand their own ‘field’ and the dynamics of abuse within it in order to develop effective prevention strategies.

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