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?

Did he do it or not?

Editor’s note: I am not an attorney, nor have I ever played one on TV. This blog post is not a commentary or evaluation of the United States legal system, only on Mr. Bill Cosby.

I won’t bury the lead.  Yes…he did it.  

How do I know? Well…he told us that he did it.

Bill Cosby walked out of a Pennsylvania state prison a free man yesterday, after Pennsylvania’s highest court “overturned” his sexual assault conviction.  In 2018, he was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman named Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia estate. And, during Cosby’s trial, 60 additional women came forward to say Cosby also sexually assaulted them the exact same way.

At his sentencing, the trial judge declared him “a sexually violent predator who could not be safely allowed out in public and needed to report to authorities for the rest of his life.” Yikes.

I wondered…with what flimsy evidence did the prosecutor charge Cosby with this crime, followed by a judge’s conviction and sentencing? The evidence was Cosby’s own confession from a deposition done during Constand’s civil trial against Cosby. Cosby admitted to giving his sexual partners quaaludes, but insisted the sex was consensual.  But Bill, was it?  Was it really consensual? Because we have 60 women who said that it wasn’t and described the same pattern of assault.

What in the world happened here? What would move a court to overturn this conviction? Due process happened here. The first prosecutor on Cosby’s case promised not to file criminal charges against the comedian if Cosby would testify in Constand’s civil lawsuit that was filed in 2005. Turns out, Pennsylvania’s highest court believes the subsequent prosecutor was bound to the promise made by his predecessor. A procedural issue that is irrelevant to the facts of the crime.

I’m not here to debate the US legal system. I am here to say to you three very important things…

  1. Bill Cosby sexually assaulted a lot of women during his reign as “America’s dad.” The “overturning” of his conviction does not dispute that. Please don’t forget that. It’s a lesson to not get illusioned by reputation or title if someone discloses sexual assault or sexual abuse.
  2. If you are a victim of sexually assault or child sexual abuse, your voice matters.  You matter. Don’t let this stop you from speaking your truth.
  3. Karma’s a bitch.

In my last blog, I promised we would talk next about why kids don’t disclose sexual abuse.

Approximately 75% of children who are sexually abused don’t ever disclose their abuse or they disclose at least five years after the abuse occurred.

To begin to understand why so many children don’t disclose their abuse, you need to know one very uncomfortable truth: 90% of children who are sexually abused, are abused by someone they know, love or trust.

I’m sorry, but I’m about to make you even more uncomfortable, so please stay with me. That statistic means kids aren’t likely to be sexually abused by some creepy stranger; they are most likely to be sexually abused by a…

Family member. Like a parent. Or stepparent. Grandparent. Older sibling. Or an admired adult. Like a coach. Or youth group leader. Or Priest. Minister. Rabbi. Or a doctor. Or a teacher. Or family friend.

I think you see where we’re going here.

We can break down the reasons why children don’t disclose sexual abuse into two simple words:

Fear and Shame

As a child, some people are your whole world. They are the foundation of your very being. And you will do almost anything to protect them.  

If it’s hard for us, as adults, to get our heads around the fact that the people most likely to sexually abuse a child are those the child knows, loves and trusts, think about how hard it is for a child to grasp that concept in a real way.

“If I tell, they will get in trouble…my parents will get divorced…they will lose their job…”

This inner dialogue is often followed by, “No one will believe me.”  “This is my fault; I must have done something to make them do this to me.” “Everyone will think I wanted this since I kept going back.” “I can’t tell my parents…they will be so upset.”

Now consider that most perpetrators threaten their victims with shaming declarations that no one will believe them or threatening to hurt someone in their family, including a pet, if they tell. Or they outright tell the child how much trouble they could be in and ask the child to ‘keep this our secret.’

Like I said…Fear and Shame.

But sometimes, kids just don’t have the right words. Depending on their level of sexual education, a child may not know that what is happening is ‘abuse.’ To them it may be ‘icky’ or ‘creepy’ or ‘uncomfortable.’

Often times, after I have this conversation with someone they say, “Yea, I get it.” Followed by a thoughtful pause, and then, “But…”  I get it. As an adult, it can be difficult to understand the psychology of a child who is enduring trauma. So, my answer to the lingering, “But…” is: Yes, it is helpful if we understand why a child doesn’t disclose abuse, but at the end of the day, we don’t need to understand.  We just need to believe them.

Right?