By Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor
As we come to the end of another year I thought it was a good time to reflect on some of the news events that have impacted our lives. This year we have heard about countless allegations of sexual misconduct, assault and rape from both men, women, boys and girls. We’ve also heard apologies and denials.
From Hollywood to USA Gymnastics and all the way to the White House and the Senate race in Alabama, a brave few stepped forward to put an end to what appears to be a culture of allowing sexual predators a free pass. One voice turned to two and then the numbers of alleged victims multiplied and could not be silenced.
The #MeToo movement gained steam and the faces of the accused and the tearful recounts of victims made headlines and started conversations that were long overdue.
No one should have been surprised to hear about the years of abuse at the hands of powerful people. Some people claim #FakeNews. But the rest of us know that this is an all too common problem and it must stop.
And it definitely must stop with our children. In our business of youth sports, we must be extra vigilant to protect the most vulnerable among us. Where there are kids, there predators.
The National Crime Victim Survey found that one in nine girls and one in 53 boys is sexually molested by an adult before the age of 18. In 1986, the American Medical Association conducted a study that said one in four girls and one in eight boys was molested before the age of 18. I doubt 2017 numbers reflect the true picture. I believe fewer boys and girls are reporting molestation for fear of ridicule or than no one will believe them.
The sad truth is that we don’t know the true numbers. What we do know from research and reports is that more than one in 10 people will not report the abuse for fear of ridicule, shame or a feeling that they must have done something wrong.
Read the stories about all the young girls who remained silent about the gymnastics doctor who has now been sentenced to 60 years in prison. He performed procedures on female athletes that made these young girls uncomfortable. Some dismissed their instincts believing this “friend” or respected doctor was doing something that would legitimately help them.
This is how predators take advantage of their victims.
Unfortunately, sports and any other youth activities are places where predators prey on unsuspecting, vulnerable victims.
So, what are we supposed to do? If you think that it’s too much of a hassle to screen everyone involved with a youth program, from volunteers to executives, you need to think twice. Screening is only one step to protect your young athletes and your organization. It’s not a question of if something will happen, but when.
Unfortunately, since many incidences of abuse never go reported, background screenings are only one part of the game plan.
Educate members of the organization and have a plan in place to screen, provide a safe culture and welcome open communication.
Make a resolution for the new year to keep kids safe. Your organization might implement a plan that includes simple rules such as: Only shoulder to shoulder hugs or high-fives, or that an adult and child may not be alone unsupervised. What do you have to do to make a difference?