Darkness2Light, an organization committed to ending child sexual abuse has some pretty scary statistics on their site that should stop every sports parent and coach in their tracks.
- Adult retrospective studies show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18.
- 73% of child victims do not tell anyone about the abuse for at least a year.
- The median age for reported abuse is 9 years old.
- Only 5% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by a stranger.
- 56% of those that sexually abuse a child are acquaintances of either the child or the family.
Did those last two statistics really hit home? Most abusers aren’t strangers or random people off the street—they are people that you know and are involved with your children’s lives. Oftentimes, the abuser is someone who has a position of power in your child’s life and is someone they’ve come to trust. That’s why volunteer background checks for sports organizations are so important—sports leagues and parents need to know they can trust their volunteer and coaches with the safety and well-being of their children.
The Penn State Scandal and subsequent trial of Jerry Sandusky pushed sexual abuse of youth athletes into national headlines and many sports parents, coaches, administrators and more were left wondering “how can something like this happen? And how can we prevent it from happening ever again?” The first step is to implement a mandatory volunteer background check for everyone involved in your youth sports organization from the front office to the coaches to the groundskeepers and everyone in between. Sports administrators have to act as the gatekeeper to their organization and a sports volunteer background check should always be one of your stop-gap measures when it comes to protecting youth athletes.
Most volunteer background checks are run with a Social Security Number Verification, used to verify that a person IS who they say they are. And, through the National Criminal File Search, a database of more than 200 million criminal records compiled from numerous sources is scanned – government watch lists, fugitive watch lists, sexual and violent offender registries, state and county repositories, and state department of corrections. 96% of the volunteers that register through an automated background check system require no action from a sports administrator. The forms submitted by the volunteers are immediately sent out, reviewed, returned, and if clear, are automatically marked closed
Now a volunteer background check isn’t foolproof but it can be the first measure in keeping sexual predators out of your sports organization and away from our kids. In addition to sports volunteer background checks it’s also important that sports administrators learn to recognize the signs of sexual abuse. Penn State coach Joe Paterno claimed he had no knowledge of Sandusky’s actions but as the head coach he was responsible for the actions of his staff and was responsible for ensuring the safety of the players under his roof. Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to protecting our children.
It’s also important that you take the time to educate your coaches, volunteers and parents so they can learn to recognize the signs of sexual abuse. Obviously you can’t be at every practice and every game for every team which is why everyone in your organization has to keep an eye out for the warning signs. Preventing the sexual abuse of youth athletes isn’t just the job of one person—it’s a community issue that everyone needs to be on guard for.