I have been disingenuous with you. And it’s time for me to come clean.

When I read the news headlines about the sexual abuse and harassment that members of our National Women’s Soccer League have been enduring, I felt the all-too-familiar twist in the pit of my stomach. I sighed and thought to myself, “Again.” Then I wondered, “How bad does it have to get before things change? How many more people have to get hurt?”

I felt defeated.

Though this isn’t ‘child sexual abuse’ because these women are over 18 years old, it is representative of a much deeper issue. These experiences didn’t happen in a vacuum and they didn’t happen overnight.

I later read a post on Glennon Doyle’s Instagram page about those who knew about the abuse and did nothing to stop it.  Same song; different verse.

But, I paused to read some of the 1,272 comments. I read disclosure after disclosure…women sharing the child sexual abuse they suffered when they played sports as children and teens. Most of these women were girls competing at an elite and/or collegiate level and too many disclosed their abuse when it happened and were told to keep it to themselves because of the harm it would do to their prestigious coach’s reputation or because the family needed that coach’s connections for the best collegiate program, the scholarship or placement on the National Team. Comment after comment after comment…

This rage started to boil within me, and it filled me with tears. My heart hurt.

I have worked with and spoken with many youth sports organizations and coaches who are doing this right; who are making sacrifices for the absolute betterment of our children.  Bless them. Truly.

But my thoughts couldn’t go there…my thoughts kept returning to the youth sports organizations who didn’t want to do this work of child sexual abuse prevention because……

…if we do this training, won’t parents think we have a problem?

…we’re right in the middle of the season, can we talk in a few months?

…the season just ended and we’re already starting to prepare for next season, can we talk in a few months?

…we already ask so much of our volunteer coaches, I just don’t think we could ask them to do one more thing.

Would you like me to go one?  Because, I can.

Too many youth sports organizations close their door to this hard work. Too many coaches talk about how there is nothing more important than the safety of their athletes, but can’t seem to get a training on their personal calendar.

For crying out loud!

ONE IN 10 CHILDREN ARE SEXUALLY ABUSED BY THEIR 18TH BIRTHDAY AND 90% OF THOSE CHILDREN ARE ABUSED BY SOMEONE THEY KNOW, LOVE AND TRUST!

That right there should be enough of a reason. But just in case it’s not, there are plenty of other reasons.

I could talk about how it’s highly likely your organization won’t be able to get insurance if you don’t take some proactive measures to mitigate risk. I could talk about the PR nightmare that results from an allegation of abuse in an organization that could have/should have done so much more. I could talk about how that PR nightmare will likely close down your organization and dry up your funding.

I knew that this was, what’s called, a teachable moment. So I sat down to make a quick video for each day of this week that had one important and practical thing we can each do to prevent child sexual abuse in youth sports. Something easy for people to digest.

Child sexual abuse prevention is a difficult topic; these conversations can be triggering and scary. I truly believe in meeting people where they are and helping them move forward, from wherever their starting point is. This is so important to me that it’s one of my company’s Guiding Principles.

So that’s what I tried to do. I didn’t want to scare people off; I wanted to educate and empower. You know…move the needle. And I posted possibly the worst video I’ve ever done in my life.

Because I was trying to act like this:

When I really felt like this:

What else do people need to know to make a change? To stop talking and start doing? To step through the discomfort because…well…their discomfort in discussing this is a walk in the park compared to the ‘discomfort’ of one of our children being sexually abused.

What else can I possibly say?

4 Reasons Why Background Checks Get More Credit Than They Deserve

If I had a nickel for every time I was told, very proudly and boldy, “We do background checks” when I signed up my kids for a sports team, summer camp or afterschool program…

Well, I’d have a whole lot of nickels.

You see, background checks get a lot more credit than they deserve.

Why, you ask? I have 4 good answers, but the most important one is: 

A background check reveals only when a person has been convicted of a crime. Not arrested for a crime and not when there is a plea bargain. (BTW, plea bargains happen quite a lot in child sexual abuse cases to prevent the child from having to testify in front of their abuser.)

Think for just a minute how many child predators actually get caught. Then think about how often there is enough evidence to arrest a person; and charge them; and then convict them.

Additionally, an individual could be arrested multiple times, but if they are never convicted, their background check comes back squeaky clean.

Reasons #2, #3, and #4 that background checks are too heavily relied upon: Background checks are not created equally. For example, does the background check…

flag felonies and misdemeanors? Or just felonies?

search a national data base? Or just state or county records?

flag convictions other than crimes against children? Domestic violence? Indecent exposure?

So, do I think background checks are useless?  Absolutely not. They are a very important part of the hiring process. They just shouldn’t be the entire hiring process. 

Youth serving organizations need to research and be very intentional about what level of background check they are using with their candidates, and parents need to be informed what exactly is searched and what is not.

Background checks are a very important data point, but they are most effective as one data point in a comprehensive hiring process.

Next time you sign up your child for an activity, be sure to ask about their child protection policies and when they proudly and boldly answer, “We do background checks!” you can now ask them what kind.

 And your child will be safer for it.

Recently, someone asked me why I do this work. Why, she asked, am I a child advocate who works to prevent child sexual abuse?

My answer?  I got into child advocacy the same way some of the best things have entered my life…quite by accident. That, she patiently explained, is how I started out as a child advocate; she wanted to know why. My answers seemed very superficial. Because it’s important. Because I seem to have a knack for it. Blah blah blah. None of my “answers” even scratched the surface of my True Why.

I quickly understood how millions of dollars are earned by authors, business coaches and media hosts who help people find their Why. It’s a tricky question. Like a sneak attack. On the surface it seems like a nice, simple question. But let me tell you.  It’s not. This “nice and simple” question took me on a journey I wasn’t prepared for. In fact, I went kicking and screaming.

There was a lot of journaling involved. And meditating.

I slowly started to realize how important it was to me – personally – to prevent the pain from abuse that can leave a residue of worthlessness, betrayal, and shame. How important it was to me – personally – to give children a voice. To be a voice for our children who don’t have one.

While my Trauma wasn’t child sexual abuse, I know the pain of not having a voice as a child; the pain of feeling like there is something wrong with me, and that it’s my fault. Anger walks alongside that pain, and…damn…it holds on tight. And I know so many of you share this with me.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

That’s my Why: It doesn’t have to be that way!

As adults, we can do simple things to better protect our children from sexual abuse. Mind you, I didn’t say ‘easy’ things; but they are simple. If we are willing to.

That’s why I want you to step out of your comfort zone and talk about child sexual abuse, and then talk about child sexual abuse prevention, and then take action by making child protection part of your organization’s, team’s or family’s way of doing things. I don’t mean changing your child protection behaviors only when it’s convenient or when it’s not too uncomfortable. I mean always…no matter who…not matter what.

Why? Because the price is too high for us not to.

That’s why I force the conversation, work to increase awareness and provide prevention and response information and training. Please join the conversation and let’s do this together.

Power Structure of Child Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports

Jerry Sandusky (American Football). Larry Nassar (Gymnastics). Andy King (Swimming). Graham James (Hockey). Greg Stephen (Basketball). Conrad Avondale Mainwaring (Track & Field). And then, of course the more than 80 British Football coaches convicted in 2016.

Their victims were boys and girls, recreational and elite athletes, young children and college students.

My point? My point is…There is not one single sports team in the world that has the luxury of claiming child sexual abuse isn’t a real risk in their organization.  Not one.

Which means, there is not one single sports team in the world that shouldn’t have Athlete Protection Policies & Procedures and Child Sexual Abuse Prevention & Response Training that are research-informed and based on best-practices.  Not one. And because I tend to repeat myself in 3s (just ask my kids), I’ll say it again…Not one.

Here is what we know:

» 1 in 10 children are sexually abused by their 18th birthday, and

» 90 percent of those kids are abused by someone they KNOW, LOVE, TRUST.

Here is what we also know:

The vast majority of youth sports coaches are good and decent people who are coaching our kids for all the right reasons.  But sadly, we also know that not all are.

ACCESS

Coaches have unique access to their young athletes outside of competition.

Think of all the ways coaches build rapport and camaraderie within a team that could avail them private and uninterruptible access to the youth. Sleepovers? Camping trips?

Think about how many working parents need the coach to help drive their kiddo to/from practice, giving them private and uninterruptible access to the youth.

Think about the overnight travel games and tournaments that parents can’t attend, where private and uninterruptible access to the youth is pretty easy to create.

You get the idea.

TRICKERY

It is not uncommon for coaches to abuse their athletes under the guise of coaching or treatment, so many young athletes may feel very uncomfortable with certain coaching techniques or treatments, but they may not realize until much later that it is, in fact, abuse.

POWER

But what keeps the youth athlete from stopping or telling someone about the abuse? In addition to all the reasons we outlined in my last blog on why children don’t disclose abuse, a coach with ill-intent can naturally develop a power structure with an athlete that easily allows for ongoing abuse.

Kids learn in their pee-wee leagues to ‘listen to their Coach’ and ‘do what your Coach asks you to do.’  Right?

Who determines how much playing time an athlete gets? Yup…Coach.

As young athletes progress into elite athletes, who is most integral to college recruiting and college scholarships?  Yup…Coach.

You get the idea.

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

Let’s actually start with what this does not mean. It does not mean we stop trusting every coach working with our kids.  It does not mean you pull your kids from youth sports programs.  And, it does not mean you have to hire a security guard to observe all your coaches’ interactions with your athletes.

As an Amateur Youth Sports Organization, this means that you consider all this as you hire, onboard and train your coaches; develop your organization’s policies & procedures; and build your organization’s culture.

As the Parent of an athlete, this means you ask the sports organizations that your kids are a involved with:

  1. What are their hiring practices?
  2. What are their athlete protection policies & procedures?  
  3. What kind of child sexual abuse prevention & response training do they provide their coaches? And,
  4. Is that training research-informed and mandatory?

Look…you (youth sports administrators and parents) talk about this stuff as it relates to concussions. Why is this any different?

It’s not.

We need to move past our discomfort and get this right.

Please let me know if I can help your organization develop Athlete Protection Policies & Procedures and provide Child Sexual Abuse Prevention & Response Training that are research-informed, based on best-practices, and most importantly…can minimize the risk of abuse within your organization.