SPORTS AND SEXUAL ABUSE: ARE WE DOING ENOUGH TO PROTECT OUR KIDS?
As parents we usually want our children to be involved in some sort of extracurricular activities as they grow up. As dads we usually want our boys to play sports or our girls to be involved in some sort of liberal arts, music or dance program. In our culture it is natural for a parent to want their children to get up and get involved in activities. Especially in today’s society when the kids have every reason in the world not to leave the house because everything they could ever want is at their finger tips.
Every day millions of children across the country practice and participate in team sports. These sports are usually supervised by other adults with whom we trust our most precious jewels. After reports surfaced that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is being accused of molesting at least eight young boys over a 15-year period I began thinking about how many other coaches out there were molesting children and how many institutions were aware of these acts and just swept it under the rug. Of course Sandusky isn’t the only coach who has aused his authoritative position to take advantage of a child. In a recently released autobiography Boxer Sugar Ray Leonard revealed that he was molested as a teenager by a trainer he looked up to. There was also the case of the Boston Red Sox manager who targeted African American boys to molest from 1971 to 1991. Donald Fitzpatrick, who is white would pick up African American boys in Winter Haven, Florida when the Red Sox held spring training there each year. This man would molest boys inside of the Red Sox clubhouse and at a local Holiday Inn. The seven men who accused Fitzpatrick claimed that the Red Sox organization knew what was going on and did nothing about the abuse. So again this is a situation where parents trusted individuals to do the right thing with their kids and the parties involved did nothing but allow this monster to commit these heinous acts for twenty years. People like Joe Paterno and others who were aware that these crimes were being committed are just as much to blame as the person who actually harmed the children.
Molestation is an all too common occurrence, and as fathers we have to do everything that we can to protect our children from these predators. The trust factor has to be eliminated. As a father I will say that the people who I actually trust around my child are minimal. It’s my responsibility to keep her safe and I try my best to make sure that she knows what she should do if anyone were to try to abuse her.
Many of us may not feel comfortable talking to our children about this issue but it has to be an ongoing conversation. You have to be responsible enough to open up the dialog with the kids and help them understand how important it is to protect themselves at all times. So here are a few things that we as parents can do to prevent this type of thing from happening to our kids.
Talk to them and help them understand their private areas – One of the first steps in preventing sexual abuse is helping your kids understand their private parts. Make sure they have a clear understanding of the difference between consensual and respectful touching and being touched inappropriately by someone. This can be uncomfortable for many people, but it has to be done. There is something called the “bathing suit analogy” that could be used for younger kids. Basically, you tell the child that the area that is covered by a bathing suit is off limits for everyone except a parent or a doctor giving medical care. Make sure you are using proper terms when referring to body parts. Using anatomically correct words like “penis, vagina and breasts” can eliminate any room for misinterpretation between you and the child.
Be vigilant – The conversation between you and your kids should be on-going. This isn’t just a one time conversation. If you notice any type of changes in your child’s behavior you have to get to the bottom of whatever the issue may be. Some of the signs that you can look for include aggressive behaviors, thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, depressed, distant, nightmares or trouble sleeping and sudden changes in appetite. If you start seeing these signs or anything else that you may think is peculiar you need to find out what is going on. Talk to their friends and see if they know anything. If you suspect that something is going on with your child it’s your responsibility to investigate until you get the answers you are looking for.
Be aware of who is around your child – We have to stop letting any and everybody come in contact with our children. If your child is involved in sports you need to be at the practices and talking to the coaches. You have to get involved and STAY involved. Don’t let the predators gain your trust because you are the protector of your child and you have to watch out for their best interest. Obviously, some of these sports organizations are harboring these predators so you have to be on the look out for the suspicious behavior. There are websites out there that allow you to check and see if some one has been convicted of any type of sex crimes. Don’t be afraid to check someone’s background. You would be surprised at how many people we come in contact with every day who have some sort of sex crime on their record. Every city usually has a sex offenders registry, or you can always check the National Sex Offenders Public Website.
No Secrets - One of the ways that a predator takes advantage of a child is by convincing them to keep the abuse a secret. You have to be proactive and let them know what they can come and talk to you about anything. I suggest having a “No Secret Rule” with your child. As a parent you should be involved in every area of your child’s life anyway, but letting them know that they can talk to you about anything is key. If someone tells them a secret and they don’t feel comfortable about it they should be able to come to you and let you know. Many predators convince their victims to keep these secrets by giving gifts. Your child shouldn’t be receiving any type of gifts from an adult unless you know them and know exactly what the reason behind the gift. Let the child know that if he/she feels uncomfortable about something that an adult asks them to do that they should notify you immediately.
Believe them – It is important for the kids to know that when they come to us about something as serious as sexual abuse that we will believe them. You should take any allegation serious that your child brings to your attention. If something does happen to your child you should report it to authorities immediately. Your child’s protection is in your hands so you have to make sure that they know that you are there for them at all times.
These are just a few tips to help you fight these predators. This abuse of our children is becoming too common, and we need to make sure as fathers we are fighting back. I don’t want to hear about one more child being abused by someone that was in a position of trust. Lets all do what we have to do to keep our kids safe.