A suit filed in March of 2010 brought major allegations about widespread sexual abuse of young swimmers throughout USA Swimming. The suit claims since 1993, at least 32 swim coaches at clubs around the country allegedly abused their swimmers.
A 61-year-old coach of a girls’ soccer team in Virginia was arrested on charges of producing child pornography by secretly videotaping girls changing into bathing suits at his home.
A 44-year-old man was alleged to have used his position as a father, neighbor and youth basketball coach to gain access to and rape at least two girls and molest three others.
A man was charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy he met while coaching bowling. The man, who was previously convicted of molesting a child and was a registered sexual offender, had been charged with second-degree sodomy. And the list goes on.
Hofstra University education professor Charol Shakeshaft estimated that 1%-2% school coaches are sexual abusers. The NAYS (National Alliance of Youth Sports) estimates there are 3 million volunteer and school coaches in the United States, or approximately 6,000 coaches nationwide with records of sexual abuse. While it seems impossible that so many incidences of sexual abuse of child athletes can continue year after year in the United States, the fact is that there are not as many protections in place for child athletes, on school or private sports teams, as most parents believe.
Coaches with winning records have been moved from district to district without charges filed against them for any number of reasons. The bottom line is that parents must take the ultimate responsibility to make sure that the school or organization providing a child’s sports experience is doing everything possible to protect children from sexual predators. Parents should also implement protections of their own to prevent any adult from abusing their child. Using the list below, parents can make it very difficult for a coach who is a predator to abuse a child athlete:
Background checks are required by some organizations that hire coaches, however it is not mandatory for every sports program. As a parent you are entitled to know if the coaches have received a background check and how thorough and far-reaching the investigation is. Even when a background check is required, parents should understand the checks are not fool proof. Violations that are over twenty years old may not show up, or the coach may have never been convicted of sexually abusive behavior. If a child predator pleas to lesser charges the sexual abuse will not show up on his or her record.
Talk to children about sexual abuse, and the tricks abusers will use on their prey.
Parents must invite their offspring to talk about their sports experiences, and explain to children (without making them paranoid or afraid) what is appropriate conversation and interaction with their coach. Educate children about appropriate and inappropriate coaching behavior, and encourage them to discuss anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, afraid or embarrassed.
Go to your child’s games and practices, and get to know the coach.
Parents should ask questions about their child’s coach and inquire about his or her qualifications. Observe how the coach interacts with your child, and how your child responds to the coach without interrupting the game. Anything that appears inappropriate should be questioned.
The best sign that a child has been sexually abused is when the child states that he or she was abused. Children often are afraid to tell anyone that they have been abused, so when they do, listen carefully and be prepared to take the necessary steps to protect your child.
Look for the signs of sexual abuse.
• Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
• Seems distracted or distant at odd times
• Difficulty at school— drop in grades, behavioral problems, or truancy
• Has a sudden change in eating habits
• Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
• Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
• Develops new or unusual fear of the coach people or places
• Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason
• Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge
• Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements
· Pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth
Establish the rule that your child should not travel or be alone with the coach.
Sleep over’s and time spent with the coach at his or her home and other places away from the location where the team meets or where your child is alone with the coach should be avoided at all costs. Explain this rule to the coach and to your child.
Communicate with other parents.
Establish a buddy system with other parents. Talk about the sports experience with other parents and set up car-pooling etc., so your child is not left alone at practices or games.
While there are many instances of sexual abuse in sports, there are also thousands of safe sports environments for kids, and the vast majority of coaches are excellent people that your children are safe with and can be trusted. It is up to all of us to make appropriate reports when foul play is suspected, and to support the coaches that are dedicated to making children’s sports the positive experience it should be.
For further information about how to keep your child safe in sports:
Child Help USA
National hotline and website offers support in response to all child abuse and can link you to local reporting agencies.
National Council of Youth Sports Child Safety Packet including the official NCYS Recommended Guidelines for Background Check Screening in Nonprofit Youth-Serving Organizations
Call NCYS at 772-781-1452 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To report sexual abuse of a child by a non-family member call your local or state police department or law enforcement office.
Cathleen Williams, RN Esq. is a registered nurse and attorney with a private law practice in New York City. She is the author of Single Mother the New Father, Volume 1 Sports- The Mother’s Playing Field.