According to Darkness2Light, an organization dedicated to the prevention of child abuse, “retrospective studies show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18…This means there are more than 42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S.” Stories of sexual abuse in youth sports are becoming uncomfortably familiar in the news today and protecting youth athletes from any kind of abuse (including verbal and physical) should be a top priority.
Here are four things you can do to help prevent sexual abuse in youth sports:
1. Never say never.
Just because your sports organization has never had anyone (parent, coach, volunteer, official, another player) accused of sexual abuse that doesn’t mean the safety of your players in guaranteed. While we never want to think our friends and neighbors, the people we know and trust in our community, are capable of abusing kids the sad truth is that 90% of abused children were abused by someone whom they know and trust. Many predators take advantage of their position of power or familiarity with the victim to gain the child’s trust and keep them quiet after the fact. Having the attitude of “well that would never happen in our community” actually helps the predators escape detection.
2. If you suspect something, say something.
Sometimes we’re so afraid of butting in, being called out for sticking our noses where they don’t belong or of accusing someone who is actually innocent, that we fail to act when we see the warning signs of abuse. If you see something that makes you uncomfortable or gives you cause for concern report it! Don’t just dismiss whisperings on the sidelines as idle gossip. Sexual predators aren’t going to give you solid proof of what they are doing so oftentimes the little warning signs and red flags are all you have to go on initially. Any report of inappropriateness between an adult and child in a youth sports program should be investigated.
3. Talk to your kids as honestly as possible.
Most parents dread “the talk” with their kids but if your child doesn’t understand what’s going on how will they know if something is wrong? Most children are taught to obey and trust adults and figures of authority, which is something that can be exploited by predators that use a child’s innocence to their advantage. Be open and honest about what is and is not appropriate in terms of physical contact with adults (and other children). Establish clear boundary lines that they understand. And be sure to let them know that if they ever feel uncomfortable around anyone they can come and talk to you about it and that you will believe them!
4. Insist on background checks for everyone apart of your youth sports organization.
While coach and volunteer background checks aren’t infallible, they can stop a lot of would-be predators at the door and they should be the first line of defense when it comes to preventing sexual abuse in youth sports. A soccer league in California is actually being sued by the parents of a young player who was raped by her coach, claiming a background check would have found his domestic abuse charge and would have prevented him from being allowed to coach.