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.

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,

Toby