Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was recently found guilty of 45 of the 48 counts brought against him for sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15 year period. The initial allegations rocked the world of collegiate sports and the impact very quickly worked its way into youth sports, where conversations about sexual abuse in sports and the importance of coach/volunteer background checks were thrust into the spotlight.
Here are 3 valuable lessons sports parents can learn from the Sandusky trial:
1. Listen when your children talk.
One of Sandusky’s victims said he went to guidance counselors to report the abuse, but that they didn’t believe him as Sandusky’s reputation for philanthropy overrode the boy’s claims. Many victims of sexual abuse don’t report their abuse out of shame, and they fear that no one will believe them. Many predators take advantage of this fear and use it to control their victims and protect themselves. It takes an immense amount of courage to admit to abuse, especially for a child, so parents shouldn’t dismiss their claims simply because you can’t imagine the person they accuse of being guilty.
2. Teach your children what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
It may not be the most comfortable conversation to have with your child, but it’s very important that they learn early on what is and what appropriate behavior isn’t, especially with regards to touching. Many predators start with innocuous behavior, like a hand on the knee, to build a level of trust with their victims. But at some point the line between innocuous and inappropriate becomes very clear, provided you know the difference. It’s important to teach your children to recognize that line, as well as what to do when someone crosses it.
3. Be aware for changes in behavior.
It’s important to recognize when something seems “off” with your child and their behavior. Are they acting out? Becoming more withdrawn? Changes in mood, behavior or school performance and reluctance to participate in activities are potential signs of abuse.
When it comes to sports organizations, parents should ask that leagues adopt the Boy Scout practice of “two-deep leadership,” which ensures that no child is left alone with an adult. This ensures that there are always two adults present. If it is not already in place, insist on mandatory background checks of all employees, coaching and volunteers that work for your community’s sports organization. Preventative measures like these may not be fool-proof, but when coupled with a watchful eye they can go a long way in preventing sexual abuse in youth sports.