9 April 2017
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The recent news that a child abuser has been at large targetting young players at rugby clubs in West London is a stark warning that we can never let our guard down. I should point out that he has only been accused of various offences involving young boys between 2011 and 2015 and is yet to be found guilty, but all rugby clubs need to understand that it could happen to them. Click here for the Evening Standard article.
I have felt that there has been a degree of complacency in the rugby community that the game’s Core Values somehow make it immune to potential abusers. When the story of Barry Bennell’s historic abuses in football broke last year, there were a number of posts on social media implying that ‘this kind of thing’ is rare in rugby. At a subsequent RFU Council meeting abuse in the game was raised as a question and the RFU Safeguarding team, who do an excellent job, provided some statistics about how many cases they had investigated and the numbers were higher than most had expected.
During my 25 years working in the NHS I have come across some very distressing cases of child abuse and one thing is very clear; a paedophile will go to extraordinary lengths and wait years if necessary to get into a position of trust and gain access to children. The rugby abuser in question did not fit most people’s typical profile of a paedophile in that he was in his twenties and maybe that was why he was allowed more leeway than normal. He may have had a DBS check (which superseded the CRB check) but that would only show anything if he had been caught before.
Rugby is a welcoming and tolerant sport. I recently listened to Nigel Owens’ interview on Desert Island Discs and he said that without rugby he may not even be alive, so worried was he about the reaction of players and union officials to his coming out as gay. But he was treated like any other person and his sexuality simply wasn’t an issue. But it is that same tolerance a paedophile will use to his advantage along with the general supposition that anyone involved in rugby must be a ‘good guy’.
For the safety of our young players and the reputation of our sport, ask questions about anyone who you have any doubts about, particularly if they coach or manage any mini or youth squads. Try to make sure there are at least two adults at every coaching session and match, even if you have to press-gang some parents into helping. There should be no reason for adults to be in changing rooms when children are changing. Club Safeguarding Officers have an important role so speak to them if something doesn’t look right.
All this should be obvious to most people but don’t let complacency be the way in for an abuser.