The recent national coverage regarding retired Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the sexual abuse charges involving as many as eight boys has drawn national attention to sexual predators involved in sports. Allegations levied against Sandusky state that he used his involvement with sports as a former college football coach to gain access to children through a charity he set up for at-risk kids called Second Mile. The abuse is suspected to have taken place over many years, despite several alleged incidents where Sandusky was highly inappropriate with children. Those who were aware of the abuse could be considered complicit in the misconduct by looking the other way while innocent children continued to be sexually abused.
Though the issue of adult power figures in athletics and the abuse of children has suddenly become a hot issue, the Sandusky case is hardly a unique occurrence. Over the past few years, coaches from football, basketball, softball and cheerleading have been charged with sexual molestation of underage children in many states across the country. The idea of sexual predators being around children in the sports environment is anything but a new trend.
The participation of children in athletics and the ability for an adult predator to gain access to them through the context of sports is a known issue. As a result, there are in many instances steps taken to safeguard kids from possible contact with an individual who is intent on engaging in sexual misconduct. Many youth sport organizations use screening and background checks to identify sexual predators, but they are often not mandatory. In addition to screening potential coaches and volunteers, ensuring that known predators face a permanent ban from contact with young athletes does deter predators. Though regulations are important and helpful they are not foolproof nor can they even be the best way to avoid a problem.
Some of the best methods to prevent a child from being a victim of a sexual predator involve parents and the children themselves. Parents should encourage their children to report any behavior from a coach or other adult that that makes them uncomfortable. Unfortunately, many times the fears of stigma, ostracism or blame will cause a victim to remain silent and not speak about an issue. Parents need to be involved with their children and encourage a dialogue about the goings on of their daily life.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (http://www.missingkids.com/) has information and resources on its website that can aid parents if they think their child might be the victim of sexual abuse. The suggestions include listening to you children, attending their activities and paying attention to any adults who show special attention to your child or who offer expensive gifts.
Parents and all adults need to be hyper-vigilant in the monitoring and protection of children when it comes potential sexual abuse. It would be ridiculous to suggest that every coach or adult involved in youth sports is a risk to children, but the sad truth is that parents have to be always weary of the potential risk to their child. In a sad twist to the incidents in Pennsylvania with Jerry Sandusky, many adults reportedly knew -- or perhaps should have known -- that Sandusky was acting inappropriately with young boys, yet the abuse continued. Only second to the hideous acts themselves was the silence of others who prevented the crimes from coming to light and bringing Sandusky to justice sooner. The acts of a single person can scar a child for his entire life. As parents and adults, it is our duty to prevent any such atrocity from occurring to a child and it takes the relentless effort of everyone to observe the warning signs and stop abuse before it can take place
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