I was having my morning coffee while reading my local newspaper (Yes…I still subscribe to an actual printed newspaper) when a headline about a local police officer being charged with child molestation caught my eye. The man had been molesting this youth for six years. Six. Years. But the most heartbreaking sentence I read detailed how the boy had told his mother when the abuse first started and she didn’t believe him.

Before we go any further…NO JUDGEMENT here. This is NOT a shame and blame article. It is a ‘we could all learn something here’ article.

Mom dismissed her son’s disclosure because she thought it was a result of night terrors he was having. Fair enough. And, let’s remember how little child sexual abuse was talked about six years ago.  Six years ago, do you think anyone would have read past the first sentence of this article? I can answer that for you.  Nope.

This mom is not in an exclusive club. Remember Jerry Sandusky? One of his first victims told his guidance counselor. She didn’t believe the boy’s disclosure because of how upstanding and amazing and generous Coach Sandusky was. There are many more examples, but you get the idea. Lots of adults don’t believe children when they disclose abuse.

But, we should believe them.

It is estimated that only 4% – 8% of children’s disclosures of child sexual abuse are false claims. What we see far more of is children NOT disclosing their abuse (we’ll talk about this more in my next blog) …nearly 75% of child sexual abuse survivors never disclose or wait more than five years to disclose their abuse. And if a child does immediately disclose abuse, it is more likely to a friend rather than an adult.

So, we should believe them.

Aside from reporting the disclosure of abuse, believing the child is possibly the most important thing you can do.  It is not our job to determine if the allegation is true or not, or if the action was abuse or not. Our job is to believe the child, assure them they have done nothing wrong, and report the allegation of abuse to your state’s department of child services or local law enforcement.

If a child ever discloses abuse to you, your first words are NOT, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” They are NOT, “Are you sure?”

Your first words are, “I believe you.”

Thank You “Athlete A”

Friends, please meet “Athlete A” – Maggie Nichols. Maggie just graduated from the University of Oklahoma and she is, arguably, the best collegiate gymnast we have ever seen. And, it wasn’t that long ago when many said she was good enough to represent the United States at the 2016 Olympics.

While those titles and accolades are very important, they are not THE most important thing about Maggie Nichols.  It is her courage for which I will always honor this young lady. 

Maggie Nichols was the first person to report Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse to USA Gymnastics. She opened the door for more than 500 other young women to step forward and disclose their abuse at the hands of the USA Gymnastics team physician. And her voice was among many publicly and privately calling for a culture shift within the National Governing Body.

There are many, many lessons to be learned from this horrific history of child sexual abuse. But, in my humble opinion, here are the most important things parents, coaches, sports team/program administrators and youth works can learn…

☑️ Youth protection, specifically child sexual abuse prevention, needs to be consistent and constant.

☑️ We can’t make youth protection a priority only when it’s convenient or not uncomfortable.

☑️If your organization or family has policies or ways of doing things to minimize the risk of abuse, then no one…and I mean no one…should get a pass because of their prominence in the community, their relationship in the family, or how long you have known them.

It’s that simple.  Let’s not make it more complicated than it needs to be.

One Important Step to Help Protect Children During Covid-19 Shelter in Place

I understand that you are probably treading water as our lives have completely turned upside down, so I will keep this short and sweet. I want to share with you ONE thing you can do TODAY to better protect our children during this “Shelter in Place.”

Unprecedented times often result in unprecedented communications and relationships. Your children are likely doing e-learning for school, using Facetime for music lessons, or using technology to communicate with coaches as the spring season approaches. Not to mention the over-the-top use of social media. 

One of the most powerful ways to prevent child sexual abuse is to minimize one-on-one situations with minors. The same premise holds true with electronic communication.

PARENTS:  Have this conversation with your children…whether they are in elementary school or high school or somewhere in between. They should know that if any adult (including adults they know) are making electronic or social media contact with them, they need to copy you in their response.

EMPLOYERS:  Please remind your staff and volunteers that they should not be electronically interacting individually with any minors.  They need to communicate with the entire group or include a parent/guardian.

HEAD COACHES: Hopefully you have policies & procedures that prohibit one-on-one interactions with minor athletes (If you don’t, you should!) Please take just a moment to remind your coaches that that includes electronic and social media interactions with players. Remind them to communicate with the entire team or include a parent/guardian.

And, as always….please contact me at 317.200.2863 or if I can help you with your policies, procedures and training related to child sexual abuse prevention and response.

Adults, Minors and Social Media…Oh My!

How in the world did we communicate with others before email? Or text? And how did we have any friends without The Gram, Likes and Shares?

Because electronic communication and social media are so ubiquitous, it’s sometimes hard to think about interacting or communicating without them.  And, that’s the problem.

Here I go again…telling you that the ‘way we’ve always done it’ isn’t such a good idea anymore. Sorry.  Not sorry.

Coaches: Don’t have one-one-one electronic communication with your athletes. And don’t interact with them on social media. It doesn’t matter if they are 7 years old or 17 years old.  Just don’t.

Parents: Don’t let your kids have one-one electronic communication with their coaches.  And don’t let them interact with them on social media.  It doesn’t matter if your kiddo is 7 years old or 17 years old.  Just don’t.

I think we would all agree that most people absolutely have our kid’s best interest at heart and most people have no ill intention. But…abuse of a child doesn’t ‘just happen out of nowhere.” A perpetrator builds a relationship of trust with his or her intended victim(s)…and very often, that child’s family and community. That process is called GROOMING. Grooming is a process of manipulation that is intentional and very well-planned.

And, as you can imagine, electronic communication and social media are exceptional tools for a perpetrator to get to know and build relationship with a kiddo.  Especially an older teen, who might be flattered by the attention.

From a real news story: “XX asked the girl to add him to her Snapchat account, which she did.  XXX told the student it was better to communicate through Snapchat because there would be no proof of their conversation.”

According to an Arizona trial record, “Records show Facebook and Instagram messages between an account that appears to be XXX and different high school girls.”  XXX “admitted his intention was to seek a date with either student.” XXX acknowledged that “he would have continued the conversation in a lewd direction if the student had responded to the massage question.”

I get a lot of pushback on this prevention tip. When someone is well-intended with youth, it can be annoying to think of a different way of doing things.  But it’s not that tough or inconvenient.  It just means that you never text, message or email just one member of the team…you communicate with all members.  If it really does apply to only one person, copy the parent or your supervisor.

Youth sports organizations should have policy against adults or older youth staff/volunteers having outside of program communication with minors. With a policy, the behavior is prohibited by everyone.  No one has to use their “best judgement” on who should or shouldn’t be building relationship with a minor outside the program.

Because youth protection must be constant and consistent.

Safe Sport Authorization Act? What The Heck Are You Talking About?

Are you involved in amateur youth sports? How about a travel team that competes outside the state? Perhaps you run this sports organization or perhaps you are a coach, volunteer or parent.

If you are part of an amateur youth sports organization that participates in interstate or international competition, you now fall under the mandate of a new federal law, “Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 ”  It is better known as the Safe Sport Authorization Act and it is designed to minimize the risk of child sexual abuse within your sports organization.

Your amateur youth sports organization now has very specific requirements for athlete protection.

  1. Your staff, volunteers, and “anyone these organizations authorize to interact with minor amateur athletes” are required to report known or a reasonable suspicion of child abuse to local law enforcement within 24 hours;
  2. Your organization is legally required to have policies & procedures that specifically address child sexual abuse prevention & response;
  3. Your organization is legally required to train staff, volunteers, and anyone authorized to interact with minor amateur athlete on child sexual abuse prevention and response; and
  4. Your organization is legally required to provide parents training on child sexual abuse prevention and response. Parents aren’t legally required to participate in the training, but your sports organization is required to make it available.

What was once considered ‘best-practices’ in child protection is now federal law.

In my next blog, I’ll talk about the possible consequences to non-compliance.

Best regards,