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The Abuse of 265 Gymnasts – and You

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In January and February 2017, dozens upon dozens of gymnast-survivors confronted their abuser in a United States court. Their personal accounts are devastating and their demands are righteous. 

May their courage and mandate for change echo every corner of youth sports – from the elite gymnasiums of Olympic Gymnastics to T-ball and dance classes. And echo to you, parents, the front line for keeping children safe.
 
The sexual abuser, Larry Nassar, former USA Gymnastics team doctor, will spend the rest of his life in prison. And the enablers – the multitude of people who turned a blind eye – finally are falling away under pressure.
 
But where does that leave your children? Are your children safe in sports programs?
 
Parents, the responsibility is in your hands. Kids are only ever protected when parents rally together, speak up and become the agents who change society. Are you willing to take three actions to protect your children from child sexual abuse in sports programs?

#1 – Call or meet in person with the director of your child’s sports program and ask for a written copy of the program’s child sexual abuse prevention policies. If they don’t exist, find out when they will and keep asking until you have them. It is unacceptable to be operating a youth-serving program without policies that address:

  • Time alone with children during and outside of activities.
  • Texting and social media between coaches and kids.
  • Annual staff training for staff in child sexual abuse prevention.
  • Staff screening that includes both background checks and interview questions about the appropriate and inappropriate touch of children.
  • Mandated reporting of suspected or known abuse.
  • Chain of accountability and monitoring of policies.

#2 – Speaking with the director is important because it tells you something about the culture of the program, but it’s not enough. Also talk with the coaches, youth leaders, trainers, and volunteers who interact directly with your children. To make it easier, buy a pack of Parenting Safe Children Conversation Starter Cards ($10 for 25 cards) and use them to help you speak with your child’s coach or teacher, as a jumping off place. Let him or her know:

  • Your child has body-safety rules.
  • Your child does not keep secrets.
  • Your child will obey the rules unless one of their body-safety rules is being violated in which case your child has permission to say “No” and tell a trusted adult.

#3 – Bring any questions or concerns about carrying out these actions to Parenting Safe Children on Facebook, where I offer guidance, encouragement, and support. I know that parents sometimes feel awkward speaking up, and I’m here to support you. Are you willing to feel a little uncomfortable so your kids don’t have to?  You can be sure, if you have a question, so does someone else. We really can do this together by supporting each other.
 
Imagine if every parent took these actions. We would create a sea change in our culture – putting children before our fear of speaking up, children before hero worship in sports, and children before all those who turn a blind eye.

If you want some inspiration, check out what this courageous mom shared this week when it was time to leave her daughters with a piano teacher.

People who sexually abuse children or sexually assault women don’t stop until they have to. If you have the opportunity to speak up, do it – and don’t stop until someone believes you and intervenes.

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Did you know that Parenting Safe Children has reached over 30,000 parents and professionals with its prevention programs. You, too, can learn how to raise children with healthy body pride and keep children safe from sexual abuse. Register today for Feather’s Parenting Safe Children Workshop — LIVE or ONLINE!

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