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Halifax Soccer Coach Convicted of Sexual Assault Shows Need for Oversight by Sporting Organizations

The Chronicle Herald reported yesterday that Konstanty Bedoa-Gorski a director and coach of a Halifax based program for high performance teen soccer players was sentenced to two years in prison for sexually assaulting one of his players, a 14 year old girl.

Family ripped apart

Judge Michael Sherar said Bedoa-Gorski took advantage of a dedicated player who was hungry for extra training and groomed her for sexual satisfaction. Judge Sherar said that Bedoa-Gorski’s actions had “ripped apart” the victim’s family.

Trust

The Crown Attorney, Richard Deveau made an important point that parents who have children in amateur sports need to think about. The Herald quoted Deveau:

“parents across the country place their trust in coaches and instructors every day when they drop their kids off at activities.”

This point is one that I have raised before, for example in my article for Lawers Weekly: Sports and Scouts at risk of Liability for Sexual Abuse.

Abuse crisis started with catholic church

Starting about two decades ago the catholic church faced an avalanche of claims in Canada and the rest of the world by thousands of victims of childhood abuse by priests. The claims were a terrible lesson, showing the vulerability of children and the need for better supervision of employees and volunteers by employers.

Vicarious liability for sexual abuse

The Supreme Court of Canada in Doe v Bennett ruled the Catholic Church could be held vicariously liable by sexual abuse by one of its Priests:

“Para28: First, the Bishop provided Bennett with the opportunity to abuse his power…

Para 29: Second, Bennett’s wrongful acts were strongly related to the physiological intimacy inherent in his role as Priest…

Para 30: Third, the Priest conferred an enormous degree of power on Bennett relative to his victims…”

Chief Justice McLaughlin stated in paragraph 32:

“The enterprise substantially enhanced the risk which lead to the wrongs of the Plaintiff-Respondents suffered. It provided Bennett with great power in relation to venerable victims and with the opportunity to abuse that power….”

Sports organizations at risk

Religious institutions aren’t the only employers at risk of liability for sexual abuse claims.

In my earlier article I suggested sports organizations need to be concerned about the potential liability for sexual abuse of children athletes by coaches.

Theo Fleury showed incredible courage going public with his history of sexual abuse by his junior hockey coach, Graham James.

In his autobiography “Playing with Fire” Theo Fleury showed just how vulnerable amateur athelets are to manipulation by their coaches, saying:

“The most influential adult in my life at the time was telling me that what I thought was wrong was right. I no longer had faith in myself of my own judgment.”

When will courts impose liability on employer?

Whenever the courts have imposed vicariously liability on an employer they focused on three factors:

1. The physical or psychological intimacy inherent in the relationships;
2. The vulnerability of the victim; and 3. The power and authority granted to the abuser by the employer.

Amateur sports organizations need to beware

All of these factors are present in the amateur sporting realm. It goes without saying young children who want to impress their coaches can be vulnerable to psychological manipulation and intimidation.

In instances where children are hoping to perform at competitive levels, the demands for individual attention greatly increases the power and authority that coaches have over child athletes.

Most religious organizations now have strict sexual abuse prevention policies that have rules, for example, preventing employees from being alone with children. But so far few sports organizations have implemented similar policies.

I would suggest sports organizations need to voluntarily implement these types of supervisory programs or, like the catholic church and other religious organizations, be forced to do so after financially crippling litigation.