December 18, 2020

HJ Talks About Abuse: Abuse in Ballet

Recently on our podcasts we discussed abuse in sport and more specifically in Wrestling. This week we turn to Ballet.

Ballet students, as with many sports, start at a young age. Those focussing on such a career may attend specialist schools and spend hours alone with coaches forming strong bonds in the hope of progressing their career.

We previously discussed the risks of coach - student relationships and the NSPCC campaign ‘Close the Loophole’ (#CloseTheLoophole) which aims to change the law regarding positions of trust to be extended to include any adult (in this scenario coaches) who holds a position of power over sixteen or seventeen year-olds.

In the summer of 2020 a ballet school in Scotland became the centre of a probe into claims of ‘inappropriate sexual behaviour’ by staff member, Jonathan Barton, towards students.

Victims stated how the teacher targeted the quiet vulnerable girls. One victim confirmed how Barton would message her, which slowly increased to asking her to attend his room at night. Barton and the student entered a sexual relationship when she was just sixteen.

ITV News investigated and heard from more than sixty women alleging abuse going back as far as 2004 and as recently as 2018. This resulted in the resignation of Barton.

Such reports again highlights safeguarding issues for children in the sports world and further areas where children spend significant time unsupervised with adults.

These allegations in the Ballet world quickly follow the 2019 news headlines that former Royal Ballet star, Stephen Beagley, sexually abused girls he taught in private lessons. This resulted in him being jailed for ten years. Beagley was convicted of abusing three girls aged nine, ten and twelve during private ballet lessons between 1997 and 2010. He pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual assault, two charges of indecent assault and one of causing a child to engage in sexual activity. Beagley was sentenced at Lewes Crown Court.

Beagley was a well known talented dancer and had held lead roles in Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, Cats and performed with Freddie Mercury.

For many years Beagley was a guest teacher and the head of the adult ballet programme for the English National Ballet. He had taught around the world including Italy, America, Australia and Hong Kong.

With such experience and skill he would have been held in high regard to his students and placed in a position of trust. As with many abusers, he would have used his position to manipulate his victims. A victim states "Beagley targeted the young girls he came into contact with and abused them while they were at their most vulnerable over many years."

Again abuse in sport or these types of institutions require exposure and sufficient safeguarding measures to stop predators.

At the time of writing, further media articles have disclosed abuse by coaches in cycling and tennis, once again highlighting the lack of safety in sporting industries.

If you are in distress or need some support, the following charities can also help:

We encourage anyone who has concerns about sexual abuse to get in touch. You can contact Alan Collins at Alan.collins@hughjames.com or Danielle Vincent at Danielle.vincent@hughjames.com.

 

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