Spain footballer Jenni Hermoso’s powerful testimony that abuse is abuse, even in sport | Bolt Burdon Kemp Spain footballer Jenni Hermoso’s powerful testimony that abuse is abuse, even in sport | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Spain footballer Jenni Hermoso’s powerful testimony that abuse is abuse, even in sport

As I have been reading about the investigation and Spanish court proceedings into the conduct by former football federation president, Luis Rubiales, I have been struck by the words of Jenni Hermoso as she testified in court, and how this relates to a lot of the sexual abuse survivors I represent.

I write this after a Spanish High Court judge ruled Rubiales should stand trial after kissing Hermoso during the Women’s World Cup medal ceremony last year.

Hermoso is a world-class football player who is Spain’s top scorer, so she is no stranger to publicity. But the events at the ceremony in Australia, where Rubiales grabbed Hermoso’s face and kissed her without her consent, have put her under a very different spotlight.

Hermoso bravely testified in front of the Spanish court so that a judge could decide if Rubiales is to be criminally tried for sexual assault and coercion.

As well as Rubiales, the judge proposed former women’s national team coach Jorge Vilda and Spanish football federation executives Albert Luque and Ruben Rivera stand criminal trial for allegedly pressuring Hermoso to state she had consented to the kiss, BBC News reported.

Hermoso shared that she did not consent to the kiss by Rubiales and felt disrespected as a person and as a player. She stated: “I didn’t do anything to land myself in that situation.”

I find Hermoso’s words powerful. Her experience and story are important even amidst difficult legal decision-making processes. I hope the judge’s words that the kiss was “not consensual and… a unilateral and surprising initiative” will demonstrate that such conduct by public officials in sport will not be tolerated. Spanish lawyers now have 10 days to decide if they will formally seek a criminal trial.

As a solicitor who represents survivors of abuse, often sexual abuse, in England and Wales much of Hermoso’s very public story brings up a lot of the same experiences that my clients go through.

Victims can often feel they are to blame for the things that happened or feel they should have acted differently or spoken out at the time. Victims can also be pressured and coerced into denying the abuse, even into protecting the abuser.

I hope survivors of abuse know they are not to blame for abuse that they are subjected to. Abuse is perpetrated in many ways and in many contexts. Victims may be adult survivors of childhood abuse or adult survivors of more recent abuse, but either way, the responsibility for abuse lies with the perpetrator.

Survivors can feel they were unable to speak out or may not even have realised what was happening at the time was wrong. This can mean that victims feel they have left things too late or have no power to speak up now. This is especially true when the abusers are in positions of trust and authority, such as sport coaches and managers.

When a perpetrator is in a position of power, it can often silence or intimidate victims who feel that they will not be believed, will not be listened to, or would even face repercussions for reporting abuse.

In a football context, players who experience sexual abuse may worry their careers and reputation will be ruined. When there are institutions or large organisations involved, victims of abuse can also feel they are powerless.

I hope that for anyone who has suffered sexual abuse as an athlete, child, or in any other way can feel empowered by the strength Hermoso has shown in affirming that victims of abuse are not to blame for what happens and that justice can be sought against abusers. While no one should ever be subjected to abuse or be forced to go through what Hermoso is having to experience to achieve justice, people speaking out helps bring abuse to light and abusers to accountability.

Here in England and Wales, victims of sexual abuse have a right to not only report abuse to the police, but also to bring a civil claim against the perpetrator and even institutions responsible for the abuser.

A criminal case can be brought against the individual who committed the abuse while a civil claim can potentially hold the abuser and the responsible organisation accountable for what happened.

The impact of abuse on a person’s career and personal life can be a key aspect of a civil claim. My team and I specialise in these civil claims, and we have a proven record of winning compensation for survivors in claims against large institutions such as churches and the Scouts Association.

Sports teams and sporting institutions are no different. Bringing a civil claim means that survivors have their own specialist legal team who act on their behalf and are independent of police or other organisations.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual abuse and would like to speak about your options, you can contact me as a specialist in abuse claims directly. I am a solicitor who acts solely on behalf of survivors of abuse, and I can offer you confidential, no-obligation, advice about your rights on a no-win no-fee basis.

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