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Protect Children Joins Mental Health Awareness Week 2024

Updated: 3 days ago

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This blog post was researched and written by our fantastic interns Emily May, Rebecca Nolan, and Anna Gumenyuk who are contributing to our ongoing work to understand and prevent childhood sexual violence.


Last week was the annual Mental Health Awareness Week, raising awareness for and reducing the stigma around discussions of mental wellbeing. The theme for this year was Movement, emphasising how physical activity can help us to relieve stress and overall improve mental health for both adults and children. Physical activity is essential for children’s development, growth, and mental health. Many children worldwide enjoy participating in various sports or activities. However, the benefits of exercise can only occur in a safe and harm-free environment.


Mental Health Awareness Week 24 Logo

Unfortunately, sexual violence against children remains a significant issue in the sports sector. According to a World Athletics study that collected data from 10,302 former youth athletes, 35% of respondents reported experiencing non-contact sexual violence, and 20% reported experiencing contact sexual violence as children in sports [1]. The most common experiences reported were obscene or sexual comments, (19%), inappropriate staring or leering (18%), inappropriate, unwanted or forced kissing (11%), and being ‘flashed’, both in-person (10%) and online (9%). Acts of sexual assault and rape within sports had a prevalence rate of 7% to 8%. Such abusive situations can develop if someone in a position of authority, such as a coach, misuses their power, but they can also be perpetuated by peers [2]. 


The effects of child sexual abuse and exploitation are profound and long-lasting. Survivors have an increased likelihood of suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety [3]. Moreover, studies have demonstrated a high correlation between sexual violence in childhood and behavioural problems, such as substance addiction, development of eating disorders, and engagement in sexual risk behaviours [4]. 


While physical exercise certainly is no ‘easy fix’ to all of these challenges, it has been proven to aid in therapeutic intervention. One study, by Anderson et al. (2002), shows that physical activity “cultivates an environment conducive to fostering a sense of mastery, achievement, and overall well-being” [5]. Regular involvement in sports has also been reported to be an effective method for managing stress and anxiety, an important step in PTSD healing [6]. Moreover, team sports can provide a sense of belonging and purpose, contributing to the recovery process [7]. 


At Protect Children, we work every day to stop all sexual violence against children. We adopt a holistic, research-based approach to prevent harm before it occurs. We conduct innovative offender-focused research to understand more about the perpetrators of online crimes of sexual violence against children. We support and cooperate with professionals, law enforcement agencies, and other authorities working in the field of child protection. We advocate for age-appropriate sexual education so that children are well-informed about their rights and know how to protect their boundaries. We empower the voices of adults who experienced sexual abuse in their childhood through the global Our Voice survey for survivors of sexual violence in childhood and the Our Voice survivor group for Finnish survivors of child sexual abuse. With our You are Enough™️ peer support groups, we aim to support parents and carers whose child has become a victim of sexual violence. 


Children playing soccer outside

As such, in our ongoing efforts at Protect Children, we not only aim to combat sexual abuse against children but also prioritise mental health by advocating for safe environments where children can have the happy, carefree childhood they inherently deserve.


Here are some of our favourite ‘dance breaks’ to get moving, tried & loved by the Protect Children interns:


For kids:



For adults:



References:


[6] Kathleen M. 2017. “Exercise and mental health”.


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