Information Campaign in Germany
An overview of an information campaign in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, where authorities implemented an information- and response policy regarding safety in sports.
With 17.8 million citizens, the region of North Rhine-Westphalia is the most populous German state. It is also a “sport intensive” state with 19,000 sports clubs with over 5.1 million members.
A 1998 qualitative study revealed that many German women in sports had faced sexual harassment and violence in their sports activities. The study showed that any talk about sexual harassment and violence was considered taboo and the authors found that gendered hierarchies in sports maintained this situation. Practitioners are usually dependent on their coaches in some way, and there is a strong focus on bodies and performance within sports.
Following the study results, the sports federation of the North Rhine-Westphalia region (Landessportbund Nordrhein-Westfalen, LSB NRW) formed a steering group to analyze the problem and implement actions to improve the situation. A campaign was launched under the title: “Silence protects the transgressors.”
A list of 10 actions to improve safety and prevent sexualized violence in sports at the club level was created:
1. The club board should meet with the regional coordinators to receive information on the actions that need to be put in place, as well as on the development of a club-specific plan to prevent sexualized violence in the club.
2. The initiative should be presented and discussed at the club’s general assembly so that they can vote on participating in the initiative.
3. A reference to the prevention of sexualized violence should be included in the club’s statutes. As an example, a reference could be: “The club commits itself to take actions in order to protect children in sport, and to prevent and intervene in case incidents of sexualized violence occur”.
4. A responsible officer/person for the prevention of sexualized violence in the club should be nominated. This person must participate in a two-day educational training, specifically developed for local prevention officers. The training is regularly offered by the LSB NRW to meet the needs of sports clubs because of their high turnover of personnel.
5. All staff members, including voluntary staff, submit a certificate of good repute (police record check) to the club board.
6. All staff members, including voluntary staff, subscribe to a code of honor. Clubs can write their own code of honor or can sign up to the federation’s code.
7. All staff members, including voluntary staff, participate in a one-day educational training on the prevention of and intervention in sexualized violence. LSB NRW offers this training to club staff on a regular basis and free of charge.
8. The club should raise awareness of all club members (including children and their parents) on the prevention of sexualized violence in sport via seminars, brochures, or the club’s website. The club can use the educational materials offered by the LSB NRW.
9. The club should develop and implement an intervention guideline to handle cases of sexualized violence, including concrete actions for grievance procedures.
10. The club should promote young club members’ participation in the initiative by organizing specific events targeted at them (e.g., self-assertiveness training, discussions on the topic, etc.).
Participating clubs in North Rhine-Westphalia were given two years to implement these ten actions, and in many regards, the implementation was a success. A total of 35 clubs began the implementation at the same time. After two years, 26 clubs had met all the requirements. The project was evaluated a year later, revealing many of its successes and benefits.
Club coaches and staff members had significantly changed their attitudes towards the topic. They reported that their sensitivity towards problems of sexualized violence increased over the two-year pilot phase. Furthermore, the results showed that they felt significantly more confident to identify sexually aggressive behaviors and intervene in cases of sexual violence. The members of the participating clubs had increased their knowledge on the topic throughout the pilot phase.
One of the initiative’s strengths was its strong network of sports federations, clubs, and stakeholders in child protection, youth work, and academia. The initiative facilitated direct access to sports clubs which are at the basis of sports and thus seem to be best placed to implement a prevention strategy against sexualized violence in sports. By appointing and educating prevention officers at the club level, and by offering training to all staff members in local clubs, necessary information on the topic was brought directly to the people that work with athletes on a daily basis.
The clubs that did not complete the program’s implementation reported that this was due to a lack of time and personnel. The participation of all club staff members in specific educational training turned out to be the major challenge for the clubs. This shows that the program requires giving clubs ample time, support, and financial resources to roll out the initiative.
Lessons learned from the campaign:
The set of 10 actions provided a comprehensive framework for prevention, protection, and provision of services against sexualized violence in sport. The project helped raise awareness of all relevant staff levels within a sports club, initiating a process of sensitization, a change of attitudes, knowledge, and competencies to prevent sexualized violence in sport. Closely monitoring the project and its success provided a basis for determining what each club needed to do and focus on.
Despite a few clubs dropping out of the implementation process, the steering group decided to hold on to the set of actions listed above, believing that these are the minimum requirements for clubs to protect their members. Instead of lowering the bar, more financial support from the regional government should be sought to support clubs implementing the ten actions to prevent sexualized violence in sports.
The communication counselor’s thoughts
It is very inspiring to see the benefits and positive effects of an information and knowledge campaign on the clubs that implemented it. The fact that clubs’ staff and coaches recognize the difference in their knowledge and capabilities to tackle these kinds of incidents counts as a great success. All informational efforts are good in and of themselves. Furthermore, people who work with children must be aware of the forms and effects of sexual violence and their ability to respond when suspicion or knowledge of such incidents arises.
This project evaluation shows that implementing such projects takes time because significant changes do not happen overnight. It would be helpful to know whether a similar assessment of staff and coaches’ knowledge has been done regarding practitioners themselves.
Further information can be found in chapter 5 by Bettina Rulofs in Lang, M., & Hartill, M. (Eds.). (2014). Safeguarding, child protection and abuse in sport: International perspectives in research, policy and practice. Routledge.