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What is abuse and how we might see it at parkrun

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, specifically states that children should be protected from all forms of abuse, and for the purposes of this policy we extend this to include vulnerable adults.

If anyone discloses any form of abuse to you, you witness it, or you have concerns about someone, please contact the Safeguarding Team via safeguarding@parkrun.com as a matter of urgency.

If you suspect someone may be in immediate danger, always contact your country’s law enforcement agency.

Abuse is any action that causes harm to another person, usually a child or vulnerable adult.

  • It can be intentional or unintentional
  • It usually happens over a period of time, rather than being a one-off event
  • An abused child or adult will often experience more than one type of abuse
  • It is not always obvious, or easy to identify

Whilst for the vast majority of time parkrun is an incredibly safe environment, free from abuse of any sort, unfortunately, abuse can occur in the parkrun setting and therefore we must remain mindful of it at all times.

For further information, below is a list of different types of abuse and some signs that may indicate that someone could be being abused. This is not an exhaustive list of indicators, and there may be genuine reasons why someone is displaying these signs or behaviours.

There are many different types of abuse, including:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional/mental/psychological abuse
  • Sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation
  • Neglect and self-neglect
  • Self-harm
  • Domestic abuse
  • Bullying

Here are some examples of how the different types of abuse might occur or show themselves in a parkrun setting:

Physical abuse

Deliberately hurting someone, causing injuries such as bruises, broken bones, burns or cuts. This may or may not have occurred at parkrun.

You may see unexplained, frequent or unusual injuries. You may notice fear of contact, fear of adults, reluctance to uncover their body (wearing long sleeves/trousers in hot weather), or physical aggression towards others. You may witness someone hitting/pushing/hurting someone during or after an event.

Emotional/mental/psychological abuse

The ongoing emotional maltreatment of another person. It can seriously damage a person’s emotional health and development.

You may see someone humiliating or constantly criticising a child or vulnerable adult, threatening them or calling them names, or pushing them too hard and not recognising their limitations. This may be well-intentioned parenting that has gone too far.

Sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation

Being forced, or persuaded, to take part in sexual activities. A child under the age of consent (which differs from country to country), can never legally consent to any sexual activity.

It doesn’t have to involve physical contact, it can include being forced to watch pornography, or it can happen online.

Sexual exploitation is also a type of sexual abuse. Those in exploitative situations and relationships usually receive something such as gifts, money or affection as a result of performing sexual activities. Victims of sexual exploitation may also be groomed and exploited online.

Those who have been or are being sexually abused may be very shy, or show fear of adults/other people. Children who are being/have been sexually abused might show sexual behaviour and language that is inappropriate for their age.

Other indicators may include inappropriate levels of familiarity with adults.

Engaging in a sexual relationship with a child is a criminal offence. Any such relationship may result in disciplinary action, and the involvement of external services including the police.

Neglect and self-neglect

The most common form of child abuse, and can be intentional or unintentional; neglect is the ongoing failure to meet a child or a vulnerable adult’s basic needs.

Signs include inappropriate clothing, for example, no warm clothes in the winter, or dirty/smelly clothing, always hungry or feeling faint, skin sores/rashes, travelling to/from parkrun alone.

Self-harm

When a person hurts themselves on purpose, for example by cutting, burning, the inappropriate taking of medicine, or disordered eating.

You may notice cuts/pinch marks/burns on someone’s body, or if someone is an unhealthy weight (very over or underweight).

Domestic abuse

An incident, or pattern of incidents, of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour. In the majority of cases, this is by a partner or ex-partner but can also be a family member or carer. Domestic abuse can often continue after separation, and this can be a time of greater risk of harm.

Adults being domestically abused may be very nervous, reluctant to talk to new people, or to do anything (go for coffee, change their plans etc), without first getting their partner’s permission. They may not have access to their own money, car, phone etc, and be disproportionately scared of getting things wrong.

In some cases, parkrunners at risk of domestic abuse may wish to keep their attendance at parkrun private and may request that images are not shared online and names are not used.

Bullying

Repeated behaviour which is intended to hurt someone emotionally or physically, and is often aimed at certain people because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, appearance, ability or disability. It can be carried out by, and aimed at, both children and adults.

You may witness children or adults repeatedly teasing each other, singling others out, or purposefully excluding others, forming groups that others aren’t a part of. Please don’t label children ‘bullies’ if you witness this sort of behaviour, but do address it and contact the Safeguarding Team for support.

Other types of abuse

May include female genital mutilation, modern slavery, financial, organisational, discriminatory, and self-neglect, but in the parkrun environment, it is unlikely that there would be clear indicators of these. As always, if you have any concerns about someone at parkrun, speak to the Event Director or contact the Safeguarding Team.

parkrun asks that event teams never make a decision on whether someone is at risk of, or likely to suffer, harm, or deal with concerns or safeguarding incidents on their own. If concerns are raised at all, it is essential that the Safeguarding Reporting Process is followed.

Other types of safeguarding incidents

Whilst the following categories are not abuse, they are included here as they are incidents of concern, with the potential risk of harm, that may happen at parkrun events:

  • Pushy parenting
  • Over-familiarity, positions of trust and physical contact
  • Unaccompanied children and children’s participation
  • General safety
  • Missing person


Pushy parenting

Children’s participation in parkrun should always be for fun, and they should not be pushed beyond their physical capabilities or personal preferences regarding the way in which they participate. Most parents and carers, through their support and encouragement, help their children have fun and participate positively at parkrun, whether they are walking, jogging, running, volunteering or spectating.

Unfortunately, certain types of involvement and behaviours from parents or carers, including ‘pushy parenting’ can have a negative impact on a child’s experience and enjoyment.

It is important to remember, however, that children can be more emotional than adults and, generally, cry more easily/frequently, so we shouldn’t always assume that a crying child is a sign of a pushy parent. It is also important to remember that there is a broad spectrum of ‘acceptable’ parenting.

parkrun’s definition of ‘pushy parenting’ is when an adult’s encouragement or support of their child becomes aggressive, or when their expectations are unrealistic and cause upset, for example always expecting their child to be first finisher, shouting at them for not trying hard enough, or calling them names in front of others.

If you witness pushy parents at an event (2k or 5k), please follow the actions outlined below:

  • Report it to the Run Director on the day as soon as is practically possible. Marshals out on the course should call or radio the Run Director so that the issue can be dealt with prior to the participants leaving the venue
  • The Run Director, accompanied by another member of the team, should speak to the parent in a friendly, non-confrontational way, explain what has been seen and ask them for their version of events. Where possible, the chat should reflect a helpful intent, rather than it being a criticism or attack. For example ‘I noticed that your child seemed unhappy running today, is there anything we can be doing to help them have a better experience of parkrun?’
  • Whilst it is important to respect different parenting styles, the Run Director should stress to the parent that children must always ‘parkrun for fun’, without any undue stress or pressure to race. It may be appropriate to explain the benefits of not pushing children, eg emotional wellbeing, increased confidence, a desire to continue participating if they’re having fun, etc
  • If it is not possible to speak with the parent on the day, or if the Run Director isn’t comfortable doing so, you must still ensure it is reported to the Safeguarding Team; we understand these can be incredibly sensitive situations and we are more than happy to intervene directly on behalf of the event team where appropriate

In all instances where the Run Director has or feels the need to intervene, an incident report should be submitted. As with medical incidents, this should record as much detail as possible, including the name and parkrun IDs of the child and parent in question. A member of the Safeguarding Team will then contact the Event Team the following week to discuss appropriate next steps.

If the Safeguarding Team feels a certain threshold has been met, the incident will be reported to external services in order to best safeguard the child. This will only ever happen after a conversation with the Event Team to ascertain the details of each incident.

Confidentiality should be maintained at all times, and disclosure should take place on a ‘need to know’ basis.

Over-familiarity, positions of trust and physical contact

Everyone who works with children and/or vulnerable adults is in a position of trust. No one in a position of trust should encourage a physically or emotionally dependent relationship to develop between themselves and anyone in their care, whether that be with a child or a vulnerable adult.

Physical contact, however well-intentioned, may be misinterpreted; however, a no-touch approach for adults who work with children, or other adults, is often impractical. Everyone is different and every situation is unique, therefore parkrun volunteers should take a common-sense approach, maintain a self-awareness, and judge what is appropriate based on the needs of the individual situation.

There could be occasions when parkrunners, particularly vulnerable adults and children, become overly familiar with or dependent on, volunteers or other adult parkrunners. This can put both parties in a compromising position.

All adults should be aware of the possibility that a child or vulnerable adult may become dependent, emotionally attached or overly familiar, and take steps to address the issue should they deem that such behaviour is becoming inappropriate.

Should this happen, we would advise the person to alert the Run Director who can then speak with the child’s parents/adult in question to inform them of the situation. It is essential that the Safeguarding Reporting Process is followed in these situations.

Unaccompanied children and children’s participation

  • Children under the age of 11 walking, jogging, or running at 5k events must be within arm’s reach of their parent, guardian, or responsible adult of the parents’ choosing at all times
  • Children aged 11 and over walking, jogging, or running at 5k events are free to participate without a responsible adult. Whilst we accept that these are still children and we must safeguard them appropriately, their welfare remains ultimately the responsibility of their parents
  • Children aged 4 - 14 walking, jogging, or running at our junior 2k events are permitted to participate unaccompanied
  • Children under the age of 11 who volunteer at any parkrun events must be accompanied by their parent, guardian, or responsible adult of their parents’ choosing at all times, and although they don’t need to stay within arm’s reach they must remain in close proximity
  • Children aged 11 or over can volunteer at any parkrun events without their parent or carer but should be within close proximity of a responsible adult volunteer. This is providing the child, and the responsible adult are both comfortable
  • Children can carry out the role of Run Director at any parkrun event, and be marked on the roster as such, but only if accompanied at all times by an adult Run Director, also marked on the roster as such, who would be required to take over in any serious situation
  • Children cannot be Event Directors

At junior parkrun events, other than in exceptional circumstances, children must be accompanied to and from the start/finish areas by an adult of the parent’s choosing; that adult must remain in attendance for the duration of the event and be there to collect the child from the finish funnel.

General Safety

Running or jogging whilst carrying a person of any age is not permitted at parkrun events. This includes children in slings, carriers, in your arms, on your shoulders or piggyback.

Walking whilst carrying a child is permitted, as long as their safety and welfare is not compromised, something that is at the discretion of the Run Director on the day.

Children may be pushed around events in a buggy, however, they should be dressed appropriately, comfortable and secure at all times. They should also have reached a stage of physical development where they are able to withstand the rigours of course-specific conditions. If in doubt, contact the parkrun Safeguarding Team via safeguarding@parkrun.com

Missing person

parkrun events are held in areas of open space and therefore, although unlikely, it is possible for people to go missing. The ‘Missing person at parkrun procedureshould be followed should anyone go missing.