Engaging people with lived experience of childhood sexual abuse

Last updated: 25 May 2021 Topics: Athlete wellbeing

This resource has been created to help sports organisations to positively and meaningfully engage with people who have lived experience of childhood sexual abuse.

Research studies such as the VOICE project – which included interviews with 72 people with lived experience of sexual violence in sport – recognised that sports organisations need to move beyond simply listening to experiences and start to actively work in partnership with people with lived experience of childhood sexual abuse. 

To develop this guidance we took what we learned during the production of our podcast Learning from lived experience of childhood sexual abuse with Karen Leach, former swimmer, VOICE ambassador and member of the Sport England Safeguarding Advisory Panel. We also included advice from Karen, based on her experiences of working with a wide range of sports organisations and the media.

We intend to continue to work with members of the Sport England Safeguarding Advisory Panel and we will update this guidance as we learn more from them and from other people with lived experience of abuse in sport.

Key themes


Everyone’s experiences are different so it is important that you have some understanding of this before you begin your work.

  • show kindness, understanding and empathy
  • recognise that each person is an individual and will therefore have different needs
  • listen to understand what is being communicated, rather than to respond
  • appreciate that people will be at different stages in their experience and recovery - things like counselling and whether the person has shared their experience before may influence the impact on them
  • keep communication open and timely
  • understand that an acknowledgement and an apology from the leadership of the sports organisation is often crucially important to people with lived experience
  • acknowledge that it takes ongoing proactive action to create and maintain accountable organisations to reduce the risk of abuse 


Speaking out can be very difficult and the person’s wishes and boundaries should be respected.

  • consider payment for their expertise, ask what their fee is and consider whether they will incur expenses
  • create a contract to agree how the work will happen and how it will be used in the future
  • consider providing the ability to approve quotes and remove content in the future, particularly if the person is likely to be sharing elements of their lived experience of childhood sexual abuse
  • agree how quotes will be used and where content will appear, such as social media, press releases, website, newsletters, posters etc


Before approaching a person with lived experience consider what you want to achieve and try to set a measurable objective.

  • think about what the work will actually involve, such as commenting on a policy, participating in a conference, sharing an experience for education or training purposes
  • allow plenty of time for each stage of the work and offer frequent breaks, especially if it involves the person sharing their experiences
  • recognise that sharing experiences can have a dramatic impact on a person, organisers should take care of all the practicalities such as hotels, taxis, meals so the person can focus on what they need to do
  • try to set out the key practical information such as payment, expenses, terms, dates and potential timescales in the first contact
  • the location of work or meetings should be agreed by the person with lived experience and should be neutral or a place where a safe space can be created
  • discuss whether the proposal meets the aims of the person with lived experience


Individuals will use different terms to describe childhood sexual abuse, you should recognise that they are a personal choice and can evoke strong feelings.

  • ask the person whether they would like to be identified or whether they prefer to remain anonymous (you may find it helpful to refer them to Waiving anonymity – a guide developed by the FA Survivor Support and Safeguarding Advisory Group) 
  • ask the individual which terms they identify with, for example, some people prefer ‘person with lived experience,’ and some people prefer the term ‘survivor’ or something else
  • try to use the person’s preferred term in printed information such as biographies, agendas, captions etc as well as when speaking to them
  • to describe abuse that took place a period of time ago try to provide context or use ‘childhood sexual abuse,’ sometimes it may be necessary to say ‘non-recent abuse’ but the term ‘historic abuse’ should be avoided
  • phrases like ‘historic abuse’ and even ‘non-recent abuse’ tend to link the abuse to the past but often the people who are living with their experience of childhood sexual abuse continue to live with the impact in the present day. Linking abuse to the past can also make it more difficult for us to recognise that the risk of sexual abuse remains current
  • when describing someone’s experience, consider the meanings they may associate with some of the words you use. For example, to the media a ‘story’ is another word for an ‘article’ but the word ‘story’ is also associated with fictional storytelling and entertainment which may cause offence to the person sharing their real life experience.

Ongoing care

It’s important that the dialogue continues following a piece of work. Plan to keep talking; remember that sharing experiences can have a big impact on a person and they may need support afterwards.

  • discuss how drafts, outcomes or feedback of the work will be shared and acted on
  • discuss potential future opportunities to work together and follow up on these ideas
  • acknowledge and give credit to those sharing their experience, with their permission put their name on the work they have done with you
  • consider how people involved in investigations will receive support after the case is closed
  • recognise that athletes may need specific additional support if there is media interest in their experience
  • provide support for those working with people with lived experience who may find some of the information distressing to hear
  • put a plan in place for those people to speak to someone who can support them during and after the work
  • recognise the contribution that people with lived experience made during their time participating in the sport or club and ensure they are acknowledged alongside their peers

Working together

Karen Leach is a member of the Sport England Advisory Panel and a VOICE Ambassador and continues to work to make sport safer. The aim of the panel is to include the expertise of people with lived experience of abuse in the development of safeguarding initiatives.

Karen said:

“I share my experience because I believe I have insights that are valuable to everyone involved in sport to help prevent what happened to me from happening again.

“It can be very difficult to revisit these experiences but when the work is well planned and thought out by the organisation it can result in really important and meaningful action being taken. However, it’s important to understand that without a robust level of support from an organisation the person with lived experience can feel abused all over again.”

The Lawn Tennis Association worked with the panel on the NGB’s recent safeguarding work.

David Humphrey, Head of Safeguarding at the LTA, said:

“Our ongoing relationship with the panel has been invaluable to us. The work on our Safe to Play campaign ensured the scenarios were consistent with the panel members lived experience which made the learning for coaches and volunteers so much more meaningful.

“We also engaged with the panel about our 2021-2023 safeguarding strategy, we were so impressed with the breadth of opinion and suggestions that came from that session. We are now busy incorporating what the panel said into our new strategy which has enriched it greatly.”

More information 

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