April was first declared Child Abuse Prevention Month by presidential proclamation in 1983. According to Department of Justice statistics, a child in America is sexually assaulted every two minutes. Unfortunately the majority of incidents are not reported because children are afraid to tell anyone what has happened–perhaps they feel no one will believe them, or perhaps their abuser has convinced them something even worse will happen if they tell. Some kids may even feel the abuse is their “fault,” and they brought it upon themselves. Child abuse can happen everywhere, not just in the home. As the National Council on Youth Sports stated;
Unfortunately, sports and other youth activities present an ideal opportunity for abusers. Experts say sexual predators typically seek the trust of both the parents and the child before beginning the abuse, so the child will be afraid to complain. This is compounded by the fact that an emotional bond is often created between the youth and the adult.
Abuse can take many forms. For instance, a coach that pressures a player to get back on the field after suffering an injury (like a concussion) is guilty of abusing their players. A coach that verbally accosts their players (more than just being loud or gruff) is abusing their team in another way. And sadly, the news is full of plenty of stories of coaches sexually abusing young athletes. The Sandusky case at Penn State may be one of the most high-profile sexual abuse in sports cases to come out recently, but it is far from the only story out there.
The NCYS recommends that youth organizations take the following actions to help prevent sexual abuse in youth sports:
1. Acknowledge that abuse/molestation is a threat to youth programs in this country and should be managed as a top strategic priority by every youth-serving organization. No matter how much we may think that something like that would never happen in our community, the simple fact of the matter is most sexual predators are people we know and trust, not random strangers passing through town.
2. Implement a comprehensive abuse/molestation management program. Rules need to be in place that cover as many bases as possible to prevent any kind of abuse. Michelle Peterson, a national expert on child abuse, pointed out;
An example of this was a conversation I had with the director of a soccer program who created an abuse prevention policy of his own that required only male coaches travel and stay with male players and the same for female coaches and players…this coach clearly is not knowledgeable around sexual abuse as many male predators abuse male children and females abuse young girls as well.
3. Periodically audit the effectiveness of your abuse/molestation management program.
4. Unite as a community of youth-serving organizations to eradicate criminal behavior from our programs. Background checks are just the first line of defense when it comes to keeping predators out of our youth sports organizations. If you suspect ANYTHING inappropriate it happening between a coach/official/administrator and a child you MUST report it. As Michelle said,
Report it. Period. They are not to think about it…or discuss it with others, investigate it or sleep one it…they are simply asked to report it. Many youth sport organizations are now requiring all employees, staff and parents to report any suspicion of abuse.
Silence (out of fear of getting involved in other people’s business or accusing an innocent person) leaves plenty of wiggle room for predators to keep abusing children.