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Sports Organizations: Reduce risk of abuse to athletes and avoid potential multi-million-dollar laws

reduce risk of abuse

By Christy Heiskala

Predators deliberately seek employment and volunteer positions where they will gain the trust of kids, their parents and everyone around them. Parents need to be mindful of this when placing their kids in sports, camps, or youth-serving organizations. Sports Organizations need to be mindful of this when hiring. Child sexual abuse is rampant in sports because the parents are blinded by their own hopes and dreams of their kid making it to the next level.

Once an athlete reaches a competitive level in their sport they have also achieved a level of discipline that can inhibit their ability to speak up if they are being sexually abused. Athletes are used to listening, applying what a coach tells them, and executing. If they are being abused by someone they respect they are not likely to speak up because they’re used to just doing what they are told. The higher the stakes, the more likely they won’t speak up because the athlete is competing to make it to the Olympics, to get college scholarships, or to play professionally. If the abuser is someone who controls their fate they are less likely to speak up because they have too much to lose.

A prime example in the news today, Dr. Larry Vassar, the Olympic Gymnastics USA Team Doctor has been charged with 22 counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree linked to nine victims; two were under age 13 when they were allegedly abused.

NBC reported:

“Police said more than 80 women and girls have filed complaints against Nassar and more accusers are coming forward by the day.”

"We don't tell parents about this because they wouldn't understand," Nassar allegedly told one girl, who was treated by Nassar for a spinal fracture when she was 15 years old, according to a police affidavit.

“Dominique Moceanu, a member of the 1996 team that won gold in Atlanta, said in a Facebook post this week that the culture of the gymnastic world "set the stage for such atrocities to take place."

I agree with Dominique. We need to wake up and acknowledge this is happening so that we can take steps to prevent it.

The infamous Karolyi Ranch and world renowned gymnastic coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi are being sued now by a former member of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. The lawsuit claims the Karolyis ignored allegations of sexual abuse reported by the gymnasts.

What can you do as a Sports Organization to reduce the risk of abuse to your athletes and a potential multi-million-dollar lawsuit?

  • Be proactive! In my experience, organizations wait until after an incident has occurred to get training. They are rolling the dice, believing it won’t happen when the odds are it will happen. It is not a matter of if it will happen, it’s a matter of when.

  • Train your staff and volunteers on child sexual abuse prevention including grooming behaviors and boundary setting. Mandated Reporter training is not comprehensive. It barely touches on predicting and prevention. It is mostly focused on reporting something that has already happened. By that time, your students and organization have already been exploited.

  • Complete a risk assessment of your organization. Address all risk areas by implementing policies and procedures that will mitigate risk.

  • Thoroughly interview and investigate potential employees. Background checks only show when someone has been convicted. More than 90% of predators never reach a conviction. Be sure to call (not email) former employers and ask if they would hire the candidate again. Question the candidate about multiple changes in employment. Check their social media for anything inappropriate or telling. Listen to your gut.

  • Pay attention! Kids disclose abuse an average of 9 – 11 times before someone understands, pays attention or takes action. If you are a mandated reporter, the law requires that you report any suspicion or disclosure. It is not up to you to investigate the accuracy of the observation or disclosure.

There is no need to be paranoid but there is a need to be informed. There are literally thousands of opportunities for child molesters to be placed in a position of trust with kids through employment or volunteering. They are going to choose the easiest places and those are where the people have not been trained on child sexual abuse prevention.

Renowned Psychologist, Carla van Dam, PhD, says in her book, The Socially Skilled Child Molester, “Child molesters gravitate to those people who are most likely to be too polite to fend them off, too shy and anxious to tell them to leave, too dependent to be assertive, and too impressed by rank, power, status, or money to do the right thing. Child molesters deliberately associate with adults who cannot address these issues. They seek out adults who worry about hurting people’s feelings. They charm adults who do not believe it could happen. In other words, the children most at risk of being sexually abused by these Groomers are the children surrounded by adults who cannot stomach learning about child sexual abuse.”

To summarize, the best way to protect your students, staff, and organization is to choose to be informed and to train your staff on child sexual abuse prevention, establish clear boundaries in your policy and procedures and take immediate corrective action and report when the boundaries or policies are violated.


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