As much as we want to trust our friends and neighbors, our teachers and coaches, our community leaders and volunteers, the simple fact is that we can’t risk our children’s safety, no matter how much we may think “well that wouldn’t happen here.” Every year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States (and who can say for sure how many unreported cases there are), meaning it can and is happening in our communities. And what’s even more disturbing is that more than 90% of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way. These aren’t wandering predators swooping into our community without warning. The perpetrators are our friends, neighbors, coaches. People we know and trust and see every day.
Youth sports leagues can be a place of learning, fun, safety, and positivity for millions of young children each year. But they are not immune from sexual predators. Sexual predators can use youth sports leagues as a way to find and groom victims–as the coach they can pinpoint the children that make for easier targets (those who suffer from emotional neediness, isolation and low self-confidence), earn the trust and admiration of those young players with gifts, extra attention, or affection, and slowly start to sexualize the relationship. Some predators can operate for years and abuse dozens of children with no one the wiser, simply because we refuse to believe that those people could infiltrate our communities.
That’s one of the main reasons why it’s so important for youth sports leagues to have serious sexual abuse policies in place and to follow them no matter what. There need to be rules in place that limit the amount of time any coach or volunteer spends with a child one-on-one, rules for social media usage/communication between adults and young players, require a volunteer background check for everyone, policies for handling reports of sexual abuse, and more. The more defined your rules and policies are the better chance you have of keeping sexual predators out and keeping the kids safe.
Michelle Peterson, a national expert on child abuse, suggests that;
…clubs…have an expert create the policies, not coaches or parents. Experts are objective and understand how sexual predators operate and know what situations put players at risk. It is impossible for parents to imagine their child’s coach as a predator and to place restrictions on someone they would never suspect in committing child abuse. Therefore, policy’s created by Boards, staff or parents are likely to be incomplete, inaccurate and fail to protect players from abuse.
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.
… The club should have policies on how to respond and investigate concerns of abuse and misconduct. The organization should fully participate with the law enforcement investigation and conduct one of their own that does not interfere with the criminal investigation. Clubs should have a zero tolerance for abuse and misconduct violations…this is why child abuse prevention policies are necessary so all members of your organization know what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors would lead to a firing.