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A rapid review on complaint mechanisms for interpersonal violence: Integrating research-based recommendations from multiple sectors to inform sport settings

Published onJun 28, 2024
A rapid review on complaint mechanisms for interpersonal violence: Integrating research-based recommendations from multiple sectors to inform sport settings


Radziszewski, S., Parent, S., St-Pierre, E., Daignault, I. V., Hébert, M., & Baril, K. (2024). A rapid review on complaint mechanisms for interpersonal violence: Integrating research-based recommendations from multiple sectors to inform sport settings. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 15248380241253822.


Complaint mechanism, interpersonal violence, evaluation, recommendations, sport


Interpersonal violence (IV) in sport has been reported in research studies (e.g., Pankowiak et al., 2023; Parent & Vaillancourt-Morel, 2020) as well as in the media (Burke, 2023; Hall, 2023). In response, governing bodies throughout the world have been elaborating different prevention strategies (e.g., U. S Center for SafeSport, 2022) as well as implementing various structure to support reporting of IV in sport (e.g., Vertommen et al., 2015). A few countries have implemented a formal complaint mechanism specific to sport settings (e.g., Sport Integrity Australia, 2023). Research on how to develop and implement these mechanisms is scarce, which leaves governing bodies with little information on which to base their decisions. Yet, complaint mechanisms for IV exist in multiple sectors other than sport, such as work or medical settings. The recommendations stemming from evaluative studies of complaint mechanisms outside of the sport context could offer cues to inform the development and implementation of similar mechanisms inside of sport. This rapid review aimed to document the characteristics of complaint mechanisms of IV in various sectors (related or not to sport), related barriers or limitation, as well as recommendations resulting from their evaluation. While the results from this review can be useful in various domains, they will be presented with a specific focus on sport settings, given the need to establish guidelines in this sector.

Literature Review

Whether in a recreational or high-performance context, in childhood or adulthood, the prevalence of IV in sport can no longer be denied. Research has shown that important proportions of sport participants have experienced at least one situation of IV in this context (Hartill et al., 2021; Pankowiak et al., 2023; Parent & Vaillancourt-Morel, 2020; Vertommen et al., 2016). In a recent study conducted with 10,302 adults from six European countries, 75% of participants mentioned that they had at least one experience of IV in sport during their childhood (Hartill et al., 2021). Experiencing IV in sport is associated with several consequences, such as psychological distress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, and lower self-esteem for adolescents (Parent et al., 2022) as well as lower quality of life and mental health in adulthood (Daignault et al., 2023; Vertommen et al., 2018). Emerging research suggests that only a minority of sport participants who experience IV in this context will formally report the incident (Hartill et al., 2021; Tuakli-Wosornu et al., 2023; Willson et al., 2022). The absence of a formal and independent complaint mechanism was one of the most frequently mentioned barriers to reporting an experience of IV in sport (Bjørnseth & Szabo, 2018; McLaren et al., 2020; Willson et al., 2022). Indeed, researchers and people involved in sport have long been advocating for a standardized and independent complaint mechanism (Gurgis & Kerr, 2021; McLaren et al., 2020; Rhind et al., 2014).

There is generally a distinction made between disclosing, which consists of revealing one’s experience of IV to someone in one’s close environment, such as a friend or family member, and reporting, which consists of using a formal mechanism to file a complaint or to access help resources (Woessner et al., 2023). On an individual level, disclosing an experience of IV represents an important step in one’s healing journey (Jeong & Cha, 2019). On an organizational level, reporting can contribute to recognizing, intervening, and preventing IV (Mennicke et al., 2021; Stoner & Cramer, 2019). In a recent study focused on disclosure, less than half (46%) of the participants who had experienced IV in sport during their childhood had disclosed the situation to an adult (Woessner et al., 2023). This proportion was in line with previously documented reporting rates of IV in Canadian national team athletes (Willson, 2019). Among the participants who had experienced IV in sport, only 44% of current and 48% of retired athletes had disclosed it to someone (Willson, 2019). The proportions were even lower for participants who had reported through a formal complaint mechanism, to 16% of current and 13% of retired athletes (Willson, 2019). Reasons evoked for not reporting included fear of repercussions, limited trust in their sport organization, and normalization of IV in sport (Willson et al., 2022). These barriers were similar to those found in research analyzing IV in contexts outside sport (Alaggia et al., 2019; Stoner & Cramer, 2019; Mennicke et al., 2021).

A few countries and regions have recently implemented independent complaint mechanisms for IV in sport, such as the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner in Canada (2022), Sport Integrity in Australia (2023), and the Sport and Recreation Complaints and Mediation Service in New Zealand (2023). While these entities seem promising, their recent creation limits our understanding of their functioning and efficiency. Two other mechanisms have been operating for a more extended period, namely the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSCPP) Child Protection in Sport Unit, which has existed in the United Kingdom since 2001, and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which has existed since 2017. Both structures offer various services, including educational material, IV reporting, and sport organization auditing (MacPherson et al., 2022). The U.S. Center for SafeSport can directly receive a complaint and investigate through its Response & Resolution team if the complaint is deemed eligible (Johnson et al., 2020). The Child Protection in Sport Unit (2023) functions differently by providing reporting flowcharts and case management tools. However, complaints are referred to the police or the country’s child protective services for further investigation.

To our knowledge, none of the complaint mechanisms of IV in sport, either recent or established, have been evaluated regarding their implementation or efficacy. A few studies have been conducted on reports of IV made through the complaint mechanisms, which informs us on the nature of the incidents but not on the mechanisms’ internal processes. In one instance, data from the U.S. Center for SafeSport Centralized Disciplinary Database identified an association between reports of sexual violence and sport with low clothing coverage, individual disciplines, and mixed-gender events (Naushad et al., 2021). In the UK, researchers compiled official reports of IV toward children in sport, as received by local authorities, the regional entry point of the child protective services (Hartill & Lang, 2018). Only 46% of the 151 local authorities provided the information requested by the researchers, which underlined the lack of accessibility of the data. Of the 1,013 reports analyzed, 47.4% concerned sexual abuse, 19.7% physical abuse, 3.5% emotional abuse, and 2.6% neglect (Hartill & Lang, 2018). Since these proportions were different from those of prevalence studies where sexual violence is much less reported, the researchers concluded that reporting of IV was limited in sport, especially experiences of emotional violence and neglect. These findings shed light on some aspects of reporting of IV in sport yet offer very little information on the internal processes of the complaint mechanisms. In one descriptive article on the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the authors mentioned that the organization was too recent for an evaluation (Johnson et al., 2020). Researchers discussing the NSCPP Child Protection in Sport Unit argued that the lack of independent and systematic evaluation of the structure hindered the development of knowledge and practices to improve prevention of IV in sport (Hartill & O’Gorman, 2014). Altogether, this literature underlines the need for evaluating the complaint mechanisms available in sport to report IV.

Evaluation is defined as “the process of systematically gathering empirical data and contextual information about an intervention program—specifically answers to what, who, how, whether, and why questions that will assist in assessing a program’s planning, implementation, and/or effectiveness” (Chen, 2015, p. 6). This definition argues that evaluation could and should be adapted to a program’s state of development and maturity. That is to say that any program, no matter its recency, could be evaluated to improve its functioning and support other organizations interested in similar programs (Chen, 2015; Rossi et al., 2004). As mentioned, research concerning formal reporting of IV in sport is sparse. In one exception, a recent study used an evaluation approach to investigate the publicly available information from the UK Child Protection in Sport Unit, the U.S. Center for SafeSport, and Sport Integrity Australia (MacPherson et al., 2022). The results showed that the three organizations offered resources related to reporting mechanisms (internally or externally) as well as support for complainants. However, only the U.S. Center for SafeSport could provide independent investigations, enforceable sanctions, and a public database of delivered sanctions (MacPherson et al., 2022). Other limitations were identified, such as the absence of neglect in the forms of IV recognized by the U.S. Center for SafeSport or the access to Sport Integrity Australia limited to affiliated sport organizations (MacPherson et al., 2022). These findings offer an important first glimpse of the complaint mechanisms’ processes but remain limited in their scope. More research is needed to document the organizations’ functioning and support future initiatives on IV in sport.

Since there are few studies on formal complaint mechanisms of IV in sport, research in other domains could help inform the work in this area. Research outside sport has typically focused on reporting of one form of violence (e.g., child sexual abuse, Allagia et al., 2019) or on reporting in a specific setting (e.g., universities, Mennicke et al., 2021), which limits our understanding of commonalities between reporting processes. Complaint mechanisms for incidents of IV exist in numerous settings, such as the workplace (Bjørkelo et al., 2021), healthcare (McTavish et al., 2017), schools and universities (D’Antuono, 2021), or the military (Macaraeg, 2016). However, research on such complaint mechanisms is usually fragmented, and, to our knowledge, no previous review of the literature has taken a broad approach to integrate findings from multiple sectors. Recommendations from evaluations of complaint mechanisms in other domains could identify key ingredients to consider when developing and implementing complaint mechanisms for IV in sport or other sectors. The present review aimed to document the characteristics of complaint mechanisms of IV, barriers or limitations related to such mechanisms, as well as recommendations resulting from their evaluation through a rapid review of the literature.


This rapid review followed the Cochrane Rapid Reviews Interim Guidance (Garrity et al., 2021), accelerating the literature review process to develop a valuable and valid knowledge synthesis (Hamel et al., 2021). To streamline the procedure, rapid reviews are based on rigorous protocols that begin with a precise research question, which is answered by simplified search strategy, data extraction, and quality appraisal (Watt et al., 2008).

Search Strategy

The search strategy was developed in consultation with a librarian to identify existing scientific literature on two main concepts: “reporting mechanisms” and “interpersonal violence” (see Table 1 for a list of keywords used). The search was conducted between August and December 2022 on five online databases (SPORTDiscus, Pubmed, PsychNET, ProQuest Dissertation and Thesis, Human Resources Abstracts, and Sociology Abstracts) to reflect different fields in which complaint mechanisms might have been studied. Specific parameters related to language, year of publication, and type of reference were used as inclusion criteria to narrow the results obtained. First, only peer-reviewed scientific articles and thesis dissertations published in English or French were considered since the researchers were fluent in these languages. Second, the search of online databases was limited to studies published in the previous decade (2012-2022). This choice was made to identify references coherent with the current historical, social, and political contexts (e.g., social norms regarding IV, #MeToo movement). Third, only research pertaining to the evaluation of formal reporting mechanisms of IV was selected. Studies related to professional errors or national policies on violence prevention were excluded. After excluding duplicates, 239 references were exported to the Covidence systematic review software (see Supplementary Appendix A for the PRISMA flowchart, Page et al., 2021).

Study Screening and Selection

Titles, abstracts, and full texts were screened by two authors [initials blinded for review] using Covidence. One began by screening the titles to identify the relevant references, which resulted in 198 documents. The two authors then independently screened 20% of the abstracts to ensure a common understanding of the inclusion criteria. Disagreements were discussed and resolved through consensus. Subsequently, one of the authors [initials blinded for review] reviewed the remaining abstracts, while the other [initials blinded for review] reviewed the excluded references to validate the choices (Garrity et al., 2021). There were 102 references went on to full-text screening. The two authors independently screened ten based on a full-text review and discussed disagreements. The same process was followed as in the previous step, where one author reviewed the remaining articles and the other validated the exclusions. Weekly meetings were held to discuss potential difficulties throughout the process. After further consultation with the librarian and with the lead investigator [initials blinded for review], the references were included in the review if they satisfied the additional following inclusion criteria: 1) the complaint mechanism was mentioned in the research objectives, and 2) there were specific recommendations targeting the complaint mechanism. These choices were made to include only research that focused on the rapid review’s objective as we noticed that certain studies were only marginally related. A total of 35 references met all the inclusion criteria.

Data Extraction and Quality Assessment

Data extraction was conducted using a form developed on Covidence to highlight relevant data. As Garrity and colleagues (2021) recommended, we restricted the amount of information extracted. For each study, we identified general information (title, date, authors), the design used (including sample and method), complaint mechanism evaluated, type(s) of IV addressed by the mechanism, barriers and limitations related to the complaint mechanisms, and main recommendations that resulted from the evaluation. One author performed most of the data extraction while the other read through each extraction form and validated that the data was complete and accurate.

Quality assessment of the references was performed with the Mixed Method Appraisal Tool (MMAT, Hong et al., 2018; Pace et al., 2012). This tool was developed to provide specific methodological quality for mixed studies reviews, including qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods studies. The developers discourage using a score to compare studies and suggest instead using their tool as a critical appraisal tool. There are two screening questions for all types of designs (clarity of the research questions and presence of collected data to address research questions) and five criteria specific to five different study designs. Each study was analyzed based on whether it used a qualitative, quantitative-randomized controlled trial, quantitative-non-randomized, quantitative-descriptive, or mixed methods design. Most studies (n = 25) showed adequate quality where all the required criteria were present. A few studies (n = 9) lacked sufficient information to be able to evaluate their quality. Finally, one study obtained a mixed evaluation, with some criteria present and other absent (see Appendix B for the complete quality assessment).

Data Analysis Process

The types of complaint mechanisms and the forms of IV addressed by the mechanisms were categorized following discussions between the two authors in charge of the analysis as well as with the principal investigator. The barriers and limitations related to the complaint mechanisms and the recommendations were organized using a narrative synthesis to identify broad categories based on the extracted data (Popay et al., 2006).


Study Characteristics

The 35 references were published between 2012 and 2022, with the majority (n = 22) published after 2017 (see Appendix C for a full description). There were 22 peer-reviewed research articles, 11 doctoral dissertations, and two book chapters. Most of the studies were conducted in the United States (n = 22), a few in Australia (n = 4) or the United Kingdom (n = 3), and one each in New Zealand and Turkey. The four remaining were literature reviews, which included studies from multiple countries. Most research used qualitative methodologies (n = 23), while a few were literature reviews (n = 5), used mixed methods (n = 3) or a quantitative non-randomized design (n = 3). One study used a quantitative descriptive design.

Characteristics of Complaint Mechanisms

The references included in the review covered various types of mechanisms that targeted different forms of IV. Many studies concerned college or university complaint mechanisms (n = 8) or mandatory reporting (n = 7). Of the papers on mandatory reporting, 5 covered children, while 2 covered elders. Some references targeted para-governmental or governmental complaint mechanisms (n = 5), such as one concerning federal judiciary employees in the United States (Martin, 2022). A few studies were on workplace (n = 4) or healthcare (n = 3) complaint mechanisms. Finally, the review identified papers on sport (n = 2), military (n =2), and prison (n = 1) complaint mechanisms or the police force (n = 1). The last two involved contexts with multiple complaint mechanisms. Gupta and colleagues (2018) focused on IV occurring in psychiatric healthcare settings, which included healthcare, police force, and para/government complaint mechanisms. Ullman’s (2019) study concerned the Office of Civil Rights, a para/governmental mechanism complaint mechanism that also intersected with college and university mechanisms.

Most complaint mechanisms focused on IV in general (n = 15), meaning all forms of IV, or specifically on sexual violence (n = 13). A few complaint mechanisms covered bullying (n = 4), while one concerned domestic violence. The two remaining articles were on the same complaint mechanism targeting cyber violence. The complaint mechanisms served various groups, including athletes, university students and employees, mandated reporters in education, or the general population. Detailed descriptions of each complaint mechanism and its targeted population are provided in Supplementary Appendix C.

Almost all the references (n = 33, 94%) mentioned aspects identified by actors1 of organizations as barriers to access or limitations related to the mechanism. These barriers and limitations were organized into five categories: fear of consequences, lack of knowledge, lack of efficiency, lack of trust, and unsupportive culture (see Table 2).

Fear of Consequences

Most papers (n = 29, 83%) mentioned that people feared the consequences that could result from using the complaint mechanism. This was related to the fear of negative repercussions, whether psychological (e.g., bullying) or physical (e.g., threats to one’s physical safety) after reporting. In many cases, participants described possible retaliation from the person being reported to the complaint mechanism. Other potential consequences identified were the possibility of being labelled a “snitch” and being ridiculed for using the complaint mechanism, which was mentioned in contexts of prison (Elliott, 2022) and sport (Hermandofer, 2015; Newman et al., 2022). Actors sometimes worried about consequences for their academic or professional careers, especially if the person reported was a superior (Gamble Blakey et al., 2019). A few authors discussed the fear of re-traumatization through the complaint process for people who experienced workplace bullying (Bjørkelo et al., 2021) or sexual violence (D’Antuono, 2021; Ullman, 2019).

Lack of Knowledge

Numerous references (n = 24, 69%) highlighted that people sometimes lacked essential knowledge concerning the complaint mechanism, which hindered their ability to use it. This was sometimes discussed as an issue that concerned the actors themselves, as lacking understanding of certain aspects of the mechanism. The lack of knowledge could also be related to ambiguity within the mechanism of what constituted violent incidents that should be reported. The studies reviewed also mentioned the absence or paucity of resources to support people in developing their knowledge about the complaint mechanism and IV more generally.

Lack of Efficiency

The lack of efficiency of the complaint mechanism was identified as a barrier or limitation in numerous studies (n = 22, 63%). Actors discussed a lack of practicality, including the amount of time, the complexity of reporting, and the slow progression once the complaint was in the system. Many papers identified communication deficiencies, whether concerning the lack of follow-up through the complaint process, from the initial reporting to the investigation results. Lack of communication between agencies involved in the complaint process was also mentioned (Cross, 2018b; Donaldson, 2019; Oloumi-Johnson, 2016).

Lack of Trust

Several references (n = 21, 60%) identified a lack of trust in the complaint mechanism as a significant barrier. Participants discussed their belief that the system was not functional and that it would be useless to report their complaints. Some worried about the lack of anonymity (Chung et al., 2018; Martin, 2022; Mincey, 2019) or feared not being believed in their experience (Eliott, 2022; Krivoshey et al., 2013; Ullman, 2019). One article underlined the influence of previous public scandals in connection with the complaint mechanism, resulting in citizens becoming disconnected from the process (Aldridge, 2018).

Unsupportive Culture

The final barrier or limitation reported by several references (n = 19, 54%) was the unsupportive culture within organizations. In many cases, participants described a culture of silence, with implicit (e.g., being labelled a “snitch”) and explicit rules (e.g., having to first report to one’s superior), which discouraged the reporting of IV. Some papers also described the normalization of IV in specific contexts, such as in sport (Davis, 2021; Newman, 2022) or in medical settings (Chung et al., 2018; Gupta et al., 2018). This could lead to dismissing IV experiences as acceptable and a part of the organizational culture.

Recommendations from Evaluation of Complaint Mechanisms

We identified 18 recommendations to improve the complaint mechanisms of IV, spanning four broad categories: organizational accountability, awareness and accessibility, adapted process, and ongoing evaluation strategies (see Table 3).

Organizational Accountability

The review identified five recommendations that targeted the organizational accountability of the various complaint mechanisms. Several studies (n = 16, 46%) discussed the importance for organizations to elaborate clear and precise complaint policies. This represented the most frequently mentioned recommendation. Individuals should be able to readily access and understand the complaint mechanism’s functioning by consulting the related policy. Many references underlined the need for precise definitions of the different forms of IV covered by the mechanisms, including examples relevant to the specific context. Other studies explained that the lack of unified definitions could hinder the complaint process and suggested a certain level of standardization (D’Antuono, 2021; Knowles et al., 2013; McTavis et al., 2017; Sengstock et al., 2013; Ullman, 2019). However, one dissertation mentioned that the policy should reflect the organization’s culture and context (Bartucci, 2012). The authors proposed there should also be a detailed description of the complaint process, including the roles and responsibilities of parties involved, as well as who can report incidents and instructions on how to do so. A few references also discussed the importance of identifying the complaint mechanism’s limitations, such as confidentiality limits (Krivoshey et al., 2013) or jurisdictional boundaries (Cross, 2018b).

Given the complex nature of IV and complaints, multiple organizations are often involved, such as the police or psychosocial resources. In light of this, several studies (n = 10, 29%) recommended that organizations promote collaborative efforts between actors, underscoring that there should be a strong network of actors involved in every step of the complaint process, from identification and referral to investigation and resolution. Knowledge about the existing services and efficient communication were key factors in promoting trust between people (Bartucci, 2012; Donaldson, 2019; Gupta et al., 2018; Oloumi-Johnson, 2016).

A complaint mechanism’s effectiveness partly rests on whether people will feel comfortable using it. On an organizational level, this could require changing the culture to increase social acceptance of complaints. A number of references (n = 9, 26%) mentioned that organizations should foster a culture in which denouncing IV is not only accepted but encouraged. Organizational leaders were deemed essential in normalizing reporting (Bjørkelo et al., 2021; Byon et al., 2020; Kim, 2017; Macaraeg, 2016; Mincey, 2019). It could also be helpful to engage in educational efforts to deconstruct the implicit rules or gender stereotypes that could hinder reporting (Catley et al., 2017; Elliott, 2022; Newman et al., 2022).

Some references (n = 6, 17%) discussed the importance for organizations to establish public transparency regarding the process and the results of the complaint mechanism. A thorough public reporting of organizations should include the number of complaints received, the proportion that were investigated, and the outcomes of these investigations. These reports could promote the recognition of IV as an important issue to tackle (Martin, 2022; Richards, 2019) and increase trust in the complaint mechanism (Cross, 2018b). Although acknowledging its potential controversy, one article suggested that perpetrators of IV toward elders should be included in a public registry (Sengstock et al., 2013).

A few studies mentioned that organizations should include actors in developing policies and programs (n = 3, 9%). Whether it be survivors of campus sexual assault (Ullman, 2019), coaches, players, and sport psychologists (Newman et al., 2022), or emergency department staff (Knowles et al., 2013), it was suggested that involving actors would lead to more adapted policies.

Awareness and Accessibility

We identified five recommendations that focused on improving awareness and accessibility of the complaint mechanism. Several papers (n = 13, 37%) discussed the importance of providing professional training to people who intervened within the complaint mechanism. One article mentioned that it should be considered a vital professional skill at all levels of an organization (Thompson et al., 2021). Some suggested enhanced training for specific actors, such as educators acting as mandatory reporters (Donaldson, 2019; McTavish et al., 2017; Oloumi-Johnson, 2016). Other references recommended a broader approach that included everyone who may encounter a person victim of IV, including university administrators (Krivoshey et al., 2013; Ullman, 2019). Some studies underlined the need for refreshers or more frequent training, which is critical to keep informed about the changes to policies and processes (Donaldson, 2019; Mincey, 2019; Schmeidel et al., 2012; Sengstock et al., 2013).

Several references (n = 9, 26%) also advised offering targeted educational workshops to people for whom the mechanism was intended. These workshops should cover awareness-raising about behaviours that are considered unacceptable. Some papers recommended relying on the bystander training approach, which could increase positive behaviours of individuals witnessing incidents of IV (D’Antuono, 2021; Lopez et al., 2013; Thompson et al., 2021). Articles also suggested that actors should learn about the complaint mechanism, including the process of reporting (Newman et al., 2022; Zeidan et al., 2022) and its limitations (Cross, 2018b). In a study concerning a sport complaint mechanism, the author advised that the workshops be given by retired athletes who would better understand the context (Davis, 2021).

A few references (n = 4, 11%) mentioned that organizations should promote the complaint mechanism regularly. The previously discussed professional training and educational workshops often occur sporadically, which creates long periods where the mechanism might not be addressed. Authors point out the need to regularly communicate information about when and how to report to the mechanism using email reminders, easily accessible information on organizations’ websites, or dedicated prevention staff (D’Antuono, 2022; Licciardi, 2022; Zeidan et al., 2022).

The strategy of fostering informal or peer support was underlined by a few studies (n = 4, 11%). In two instances, the researchers mentioned the importance of teamwork for teachers who were mandated reporters (Bartucci, 2012) or of the sense of community between home healthcare nurses (Byon et al., 2020) to facilitate the complaint process. The other two papers suggested that organizations should encourage their members to reach out to people they trust for support through the complaint process (Russell et al., 2021; Thompson & Catley, 2021).

One dissertation (Ullman, 2019) indicated that reducing or abolishing statutes of limitations was important to improve access to complaint mechanisms. Time limitations concerning the moment survivors can report their experience or the period for which rape kits and other evidence is kept can reduce access to justice (Ullman, 2019).

Adapted Process

Some references (n = 7, 20%) discussed the importance of ensuring the confidentiality and the protection of people using the mechanism. The researchers underlined that people had to feel safe using the complaint mechanism whether the person who experienced IV or a bystander acting as a whistleblower. The focus of this need for confidentiality was protecting individuals involved in the complaint from retaliation (Elliott, 2020; Hermandorfer et al., 2015; Martin, 2022; Mincey, 2019; Russell et al., 2021). Researchers explained, for example, that although there were anti-retaliation laws in the U.S., these did not protect student-athletes who were not considered workers (Hermandorfer et al., 2015). Confidentiality was also sometimes mentioned as potentially limiting the collaboration between organizations, given the necessity to protect certain information, which was salient in medical settings (Sengstock et al., 2013).

Implementing user-friendly processes was identified as a recommendation in some references (n = 6, 17%). While we previously mentioned that the complaint mechanism should be easy to access, it is also essential that the mechanism be easy to use. This means that organizations should develop processes based on the needs of people likely to use the mechanism. For example, in two studies conducted in a healthcare setting (Byon et al., 2020; Knowles et al., 2013), the staff explained that the process was too long for them to report a complaint, given their time constraints. Licciardi (2022) explored the influence of website design on reporting sexual violence through American universities’ complaint mechanisms, which was especially relevant given the number of mechanisms that are accessible online. The researcher made many design recommendations, such as including all relevant information on one or two web pages and minimizing legal jargon (Licciardi, 2022).

Some references (n = 6, 17%) recommended providing adequate training to the complaint mechanism’s staff. Researchers highlighted the importance of providing a safe context for people using the mechanism. A few researchers discussed the necessity of using trauma-informed practices, which could be facilitated by a designated advocate who would offer support through the process (Ullman, 2019; Zeidan et al., 2022). Others raised more generally the need for those who managed complaints to be trained in the nature and consequences of IV as well as in managing complaints (Catley, 2017 et al.; Thompson & Catley, 2021). This might require specialized training, as suggested for police who respond to incidents of domestic violence (Goodman-Delahunty & Crehan, 2016).

Some studies (n = 5, 14%) underlined the need to provide timely responses and regular feedback to people using the mechanism. While managing complaints and ensuing investigations may take time, delays should be kept reasonable. Furthermore, during the process, there should be regular communication with the people involved informing them of the steps to analyze and investigate the complaint (Oloumi-Johnson, 2016; Russell et al., 2021; Ullman, 2019). One article suggested that people who reported the complaint should be told what sanctions were given when legally possible (Russell et al., 2021).

In line with what was previously mentioned about tailoring the mechanisms to actors’ needs, a few references (n = 3, 9%) named the importance of offering adequate resources. These resources should be flexible regarding hours, prices, location (internal or external to the organization), and timeline (before, during, and after the complaint process) to adapt to each person’s context. Various resources were identified, such as counselling (Ullman, 2019; Zeidan et al., 2022), legal advice, and restorative justice (Ullman, 2019).

A few papers (n = 3, 9%) identified the necessity to consider the needs of marginalized populations. Researchers mentioned workers from diverse racial backgrounds, gender identities, and sexual orientations (Ullman, 2019) as well as those who used assistive technology or were second-language learners (Licciardi, 2022). One dissertation underlined the potential significance of gender representation in the complaint process (Kim, 2017).

A few studies (n = 3, 9%) suggested considering the situation and the rights of people who are reported through the complaint mechanism. These ranged from increasing knowledge about the perpetrator’s experience of interventions (Gamble Blakey et al., 2019), considering the perpetrators’ rights when deciding on sanctions (Macaraeg, 2016), and the need to offer supportive measures for perpetrators that promoted their accountability (D’Anutono, 2021).

Ongoing Evaluation Strategies

Finally, our rapid review identified recommendations related to ongoing evaluation strategies. Some references (n = 7, 20%) underlined the importance of continuous monitoring and adjustments to the complaint mechanism. There remains much to understand about complaint processes, including factors that promote or hinder reporting (Mincey, 2019). Also, there should be evaluations conducted on the efficacy of previous recommendations, such as complaint policies (McTavish et al., 2017), professional training (Donaldson, 2019), or educational workshops (Sivis-Cetinkaya et al., 2015). The lessons learned through this continuous monitoring should then be used to improve the complaint mechanism.


With this rapid review of the literature, we adopt a broad approach to integrating recommendations from evaluations of diverse complaint mechanisms. The results show that different mechanisms in different sectors share similar barriers and limitations, and their evaluation led to several key recommendations that should be considered to improve access and use. The findings are discussed on how they can inform the development and implementation of formal complaint mechanisms regarding IV in sport settings.

Five barriers or limitations are identified through the rapid review, and each is documented in more than half of the references included in our review. This suggests that regardless of their differences (forms of violence, settings, target populations), complaint mechanisms present similar aspects that limit people’s motivation to use them. Sport organizations should address these barriers and limitations to reduce the gap between the number of cases self-reported by athletes in prevalence studies and the number of cases reported to formal complaint mechanisms (Hartill & Lang, 2018; Hartill et al., 2021; Willson et al., 2022). These findings are coherent with recent studies conducted in sport settings. In Norway, Sølvberg and her colleagues (2023) found that most high school students, including elite (71.7%) or recreational athletes (68.6%) and non-athletes (76.8%), did not know if their school had a system to report sexual abuse or violence. This suggests an important lack of knowledge about the existence of complaint mechanisms, let alone how to access them. Lack of trust has also been reported in studies as a reason athletes decided not to report their IV experience (Adhia et al., 2023; Timon et al., 2022). It seems that lack of trust is often related to previous experiences of reporting that led to little or no consequences for the perpetrator (Adhia et al., 2023; Willson et al., 2022). Concerning lack of efficiency, research conducted with student-athletes identified barriers to reporting IV that were on an institutional level, such as the protection of star athletes, and on a team level, such as a lack of privacy about the report (Adhia et al., 2023). Implementing trustworthy formal complaint mechanisms that are independent of sport organizations is necessary to ensure a safe sporting environment for all involved (Tuakli-Wosornu et al., 2023; Willson et al., 2022).

The barriers and limitations identified in this study have also been underlined in relation to formal complaint mechanisms implemented in sport. In a previously mentioned study among current and former national team athletes in Canada mentioned their fear of consequences, their lack of trust, and the unsupportive culture (Willson et al., 2022). These results concern a period anterior to the implementation of the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) that has been actively receiving complaints of IV in sport since June 2022 (Abuse-Free Sport, 2023). However, the complaint mechanism’s recent operation was severely critiqued by sport advocates and athletes for a perceived lack of independence (Standing Committee on the Status of Women, 2023). The OSIC was initially integrated under the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada, which is the entity responsible for the tribunal addressing disputes and complaints related to sport at a national level (Burke, 2023). The ongoing pressure led the federal government to remove the OSIC out of its initial structure to ensure increased independence of the complaint mechanism. In addition, a national commission will be assigned to investigtate the systemic nature of IV in Canadian sport and offer recommendations to support a wide cultural change (Burke, 2023). The situation in Canada shows that developing complaint mechanisms of IV in sport is not an easy and straightforward process, especially in a context where members already have low levels of trust toward the governing bodies. More research is needed across different countries to support the creation of complaint mechanisms of IV that will answer the sport community’s needs and limit the barriers highlighted in this rapid review.

We identify 18 recommendations spanning four broad categories concerning various aspects of the development and implementation of complaint mechanisms of IV. These findings contribute to filling the knowledge and practice gap identified by Tuakli-Wosornu and colleagues (2023) concerning the disclosure and reporting step of IV in sport. Indeed, the researchers describe reporting as a dynamic journey including five critical steps: readiness, recognition, disclosure and reporting, response, and remedy (Tuakli-Wosornu et al., 2023). Disclosure and reporting represent a crucial yet underutilized step in the process, mainly related to a lack of trust in the system. This step is described as “the weakest link in the safeguarding chain” (Tuakli-Wosornu et al., 2023, p. 12). The results of the present rapid review are coherent with findings from Tuakli-Wosornu and colleagues, highlighting the complexity of IV reporting process in sport. The following recommendations can therefore contribute to the knowledge necessary for sport organizations to manage the complaint processes better.

The first category presents recommendations concerning organizational accountability. The independence of the complaint mechanisms is an essential component. Nevertheless, attention must be given to other aspects of the structure to avoid reproducing the previously identified barriers and limitations. An analysis of three cases of sexual violence scandals in American universities concludes that institutional actions legitimized and perpetuated the abuse (Nite & Nauright, 2020). The authors recommend maximum transparency regarding the investigative processes of complaints of sexual abuse in sport. Other studies on IV in sport also voiced the need for transparency and accountability (Kerr, 2022; Tuakli-Wosornu et al., 2023; Willson et al., 2022). For example, the OSIC (2023) publishes quarterly activity reports available on their website with the number of complaints received and decisions made on their receivability. One strategy to enhance the accountability of complaint mechanisms is to include sport participants in developing the related policies and programs. Researchers in sport increasingly recommend including athletes in IV prevention (Mountjoy et al., 2022; Willson et al., 2022). This decision should be made from the beginning of the complaint mechanism development to ensure that the structure respects the needs and realities of those who need it the most. Including actors only later in the development risks creating a sense of tokenism for the survivors (Mountjoy et al., 2022).

The awareness and accessibility category of recommendations is related to the people’s knowledge and confidence in accessing the complaint mechanism. Some people do not use the complaint mechanism because they do not realize they are experiencing IV (Willson et al., 2022). This situation might be even more present in the sport context, given that IV is often normalized (Constandt et al., 2023; Tuakli-Wosornu et al., 2023; Willson, 2019). The use of IV can be perceived as having instrumental effects, such as motivating an athlete’s performance or ensuring interpersonal control (Roberts et al., 2020). As such, sport organizations should provide professional training for their members to better identify and report IV in sport (Gurgis & Kerr, 2021; MacPherson et al., 2022). There should also be tailored educational workshops for those at risk of experiencing IV to enable them to better recognize inappropriate behaviours (Willson et al., 2022). Research is conducted on developing empirically based training to prevent IV in sport (Schäfer-Pels et al., 2023; Verhelle et al., 2022), which offers a promising avenue for action. Given the evolving landscape of complaint mechanisms for IV in sport, new training should include information to clarify the process of reporting. These structures operate under legal frameworks that might be difficult to understand for the sport community. In her report on the National Women’s Soccer League, Yates (2022) wrote regarding the U.S. Center for Safesport “SafeSport’s patchwork of jurisdiction has created significant confusion in the soccer landscape about who is responsible for investigating claims and imposing discipline in misconduct cases.” (pp. 166-167). While suggestions have been made to improve the process, as presented below, progress should also be made concerning the adequate dissemination of information on the functioning of complaint mechanisms of IV in sport.

In the adapted process category, the recommendations concern specific aspects of the mechanism once a person makes a report. Many of the issues identified align with recommendations made by Canadian athletes to create an independent complaint mechanism for IV in sport (Willson, 2019). When asked about recommendations, they talk about the need for a confidential and neutral structure where to report their experiences of IV with skilled professionals who offer support through the process (Willson, 2019). Similarly, sport administrators in another study mention that an independent complaint mechanism is essential because sport organizations are not trained or equipped to adequately deal with reports of IV (Gurgis & Kerr, 2021). These findings are coherent with the recent development and implementation of complaint mechanisms for IV in sport, such as the OSIC in Canada (2022) or Sport Integrity in Australia (2023). However, given that none of the mechanisms have been formally evaluated, little information is available on the state of their current processes. Furthermore, public criticisms about the OSIC’s independence, described previously, indicates the need for further reflection to ensure that the mechanism adequately fulfills its objectives.

This knowledge gap is related to the final category of recommendations on the importance of ongoing evaluation strategies to ensure that complaint mechanisms improve with time and through experience. It has been noted that “the absence of ongoing data collection about progress toward goals, the use of data to evaluate whether policies are effective, why or why not, and under which circumstances, is lacking in sport” (Kerr, 2022, p. 123). This conclusion comes after similar concerns were reported by researchers in the past decades (Brackenridge, 2001; Hartill & O’Gorman, 2014), suggesting that such concerns have been recurrent. More specific attention should be devoted to evaluating complaint procedures at different stages, from their development to their efficacy and impact (Chen, 2015; Rossi et al., 2004). The current list of recommendations forms a general basis for expanding as more information is gathered through research and practice.

Implications for Research, Policy, and Practice

This rapid review highlights many important recommendations obtained through research-based evaluations of diverse complaint mechanisms of IV. Future research is needed to gain more knowledge on the reporting process of IV in sport, especially to understand the reluctance of sport participants to report incidents, which information can then serve to improve the complaint mechanisms. Existing complaint mechanisms in sport should undergo a rigorous external evaluation to document their processes, including strengths and areas for improvement. Even the more recent structures should be evaluated using an approach appropriate to their stage of maturity. Researchers and sport participants interested in this subject could draw inspiration from child protective services, which are regularly evaluated, as shown by several systematic reviews (e.g., Cénat et al., 2021; Damman et al., 2020).

From a practice perspective, the recommendations of this rapid review should be shared widely with the organizations responsible for developing and implementing complaint mechanisms for IV in sport. The findings could be used as a checklist for organizations to reflect on aspects that could improve their processes. Governments should include a mandatory evaluation component when funding complaint mechanisms of IV. Close monitoring of each stage of implementation should be integrated and regularly updated. Finally, evaluation results should be publicly available to increase accountability and trust in the structure (McLaren et al., 2020; Richard, 2019). There has been an important mobilization of actors in the American soccer community to advocate for a reform of the U. S. Center for SafeSport (Parlow Cone, 2023). Changes requested by athletes and youth sport organizations include increased transparency about complaints received, better collaboration with national governing bodies, increased clarity in case resolution, and improved sensitivity toward victims’ needs in the appeal process (U.S. Soccer, 2023). The issues identify in these advocacy efforts are clearly aligned with the current study’s recommendations for complaint mechanisms of IV in sport. Researchers and sport community members should pursue their efforts in better understanding reporting processes of IV in sport and supporting ongoing improvement of the responsible complaint mechanisms.


Most of the studies identified in this rapid review were conducted in the United States, which seriously limits our understanding of culturally specific barriers or limitations and recommendations for complaint mechanisms. As such, more research is needed to understand better the similarities and differences of reporting processes of IV, specifically in sport, in various countries. Regarding the nature of the method used, no gray literature was included in this review, which has left out potential pertinent information stemming from investigative or governmental reports. In time, when more research will have been conducted on reporting processes and complaint mechanisms of IV in sport, a systematic or scoping review, including gray literature, should be conducted.


Findings from this rapid review inform current efforts to develop and implement formal and independent complaint mechanisms of IV in sport. This knowledge synthesis is especially relevant given the current state of IV reporting in sport and the growing public interest in this critical issue. Barriers and limitations identified in the review, such as fear of consequences and lack of trust, represent crucial aspects to address by sport participants to improve access to and use of complaint mechanisms. While more research is needed in this area, this rapid review draws recommendations from various research disciplines and types of mechanisms to offer a comprehensive portrait of best practices. This represents a significant contribution to support the growing interest in developing appropriate complaint mechanisms of IV in sport amidst scarce scientific information on this subject. Recommendations concerning organizational accountability, awareness and accessibility, adapted processes, and ongoing evaluation are preliminary targets for research and practice. Ultimately, increasing knowledge of complaint mechanisms will contribute to improving IV prevention in sport.


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