Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Under Siege – Our Youth

It’s not figure skating. It’s not hockey. It’s not gymnastics or swimming, nor football or basketball…it is our children who are under siege. In 2010, a jury awarded a former scout $18.5 million dollars after the Boy Scouts of America was accused of covering up decades of child abuse. The Catholic Church has had to defend accusations from Canada, Ireland, United States, Britain, Mexico, Belgium, France, and Germany. Every year there is a plethora of accusations against school teachers….as recently as yesterday, a university professor was accused of watching child pornography on an airplane!

As a father I used to worry about the influence of drinking and drugs to my children…as a culture, we turn to the church, the scouts, school activities, or sports to help keep our children off the streets and away from harm. But that seems not to be the case… and quite honestly, it is very difficult if not impossible to protect our children from the “landmines” that surround them. It’s not these activities that are the root of the evil…it’s the fact that that’s where the children are. If you are a drunk, you know where to get the booze. If you are an addict you know where to get your fix. For pedophiles they go where the children are. Six years ago I managed an ice rink and all the outdoor pools for my community. While the rink had its own unique problems, they were nothing like the pool business. You not only have to protect the swimmers from drowning but the scantily dressed patrons from the sick-minded people whom prey upon unsuspecting children. More than once I had to chase away adults who were taking photos of children in swimwear from outside the fence. I have worse stories that I choose not to share…the point is wherever there are kids, especially unattended, these people will be there.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the following: Seventy-one percent of children were classified as victims of child neglect; 16 percent as victims of physical abuse; 9 percent as victims of sexual abuse; and 7 percent as victims of emotional abuse (http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/CM-DataSheet-a.pdf) . My question…how many of the 71% of children who are victims of neglect, make up the victims of sexual abuse? Another thought is that these are NOT specifically children who participate in any one sport or activity…this is a problem of society as a whole!

If any good can come of these continued crises, it is that we as that same community must be vigilant in the protection of our children. As a parent, your really have to think hard about who you allow access to your children, especially unattended. The CDC also reported that the vast majority of abusers (90%) are male, and 71% of the time, the abuser knows the victim. As written in the new PSA CER course on abuse, 2 GRO-W Champions, “It stands to reason that skating as an industry would be no different than the general population, especially when there is ample opportunity for predators to assert authority over a victim.”
Dr. Max Trenerry, a friend and colleague from the Mayo Clinic and co-author of the 2 GRO-W Champions course, has said that it is important as coaches not to put ourselves in circumstances that can be questioned…driving skaters from school to the rink, traveling to competitions, sharing accommodations with your students. No matter how noble the gesture, the appearance to others is suspect and the danger of damaging your reputation or worse is not worth the risk. Honestly, coaches should never be in a closed room or in an environment that is unobserved.

Coaches and all those who assist them have a special obligation to protect children and adolescents from any form of exploitation. Given the abuse that has occurred, coaches, judges and club officials should go out of their way to protect all young people from potentially harmful situations.
"There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." - Nelson Mandela


Anonymous said...

Thanks for addressing this. I think it's also critical that the ice rinks take greater responsibility in this are as well. When a rink decides who has access to coach at their facility they need to have accountability for the actions of their coaching staff. To simply state that they are independent contractors shouldn't exempt them from ensuring a safe environment for the youth the rink is selling ice time too. The PSA and USFS can't control everything, and right now I think there is a "loop hole" in terms of rink management's role in all of these issues.

Tracy said...

Well said Jimmy! Rinks and clubs for too long have had separate standards for their workforce. The rules apply to some, but not all. Separate standards open the doors for these predators and wreak havoc on our profession. These issues need to be fully exposed with swift justice and followed up with communications/actions put in place to ensure our skaters and parents that the events will never occur again. Our children desire our protection and trust as much as our skills as teachers.