How to talk to your kids about sexual abuse in sports


If children understand the importance of personal boundaries and respect, they will be better prepared to recognise actions that are disrespectful, inappropriate or criminal. — TNS

My daughter is on a gymnastics team. How do I talk to her about the risks of sexual abuse in sports?

Getting involved in sports, clubs and other organised activities is good for kids.

Children in activities get more exercise and have more self-esteem, research shows, and are better able to manage their time and build relationships.

But with news stories about children, teens and young people being sexually abused by adults involved in youth organisations, parents can naturally be frightened.

Parents may wonder how to balance the risk and benefit.

Child sexual abuse can happen in any youth organisation: sports, music, church, scouting, the list goes on.

Unfortunately, people who mean harm to children may target settings with lots of children around.

Sexual offenders will often work to gain the trust and respect of parents and other adults in the organisation before beginning the abuse.

This process, known as “grooming,” makes it harder for children to tell anyone about the abuse.

They might think that other adults around them who have a good relationship with the abuser wouldn’t believe that person would ever do something terrible.

Here are ways to talk to children and to help prevent abuse:

Speak with your children

Speak openly, in ways your child can understand, about private body parts, inappropriate touching, and respectful relationships.

By starting this conversation, you create an environment in which children are comfortable talking about their bodies and sexuality.

After all, how can a child who doesn’t have appropriate language for sexual body parts possibly tell anybody that someone touched those body parts in a way that was uncomfortable?

If children understand the importance of personal boundaries and respect, they will be better prepared to recognise actions that are disrespectful, inappropriate, or criminal.

With a basic understand of sexual relationships, children are able to see how these relationships should not happen between adults and children.

By encouraging conversation with your children about these subjects, you help them to know they can come to you with problems, and that they will have the language and knowledge needed to express themselves and get help.

Keep no secrets

Disgraced former USA Gymnastics Dr Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison in 2018 for sexually abusing over 150 young girls under the guise of medical treatment. — AFPDisgraced former USA Gymnastics Dr Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison in 2018 for sexually abusing over 150 young girls under the guise of medical treatment. — AFPMake sure your child knows that it is never okay for an adult or older child to tell them to keep a secret from you.

Sexual abuse thrives in an environment of secrecy.

Sexual offenders use secrecy as a way to groom a child and to make the child feel somehow responsible for their own abuse: “This is just our little secret, right?”.

This simple rule – no secrets – is one of the best ways to guard against abuse.

Explain that adults can help

Let your children know that you can handle anything they ever need to tell you.

Many victims of child sexual abuse report that they did not tell about the abuse because they were afraid of how the information would make their mum or dad feel.

Children must know that their caregivers are prepared, or know how to get help, for any problem they may face.

Know the risk

Yes, it’s a tough topic.

Yes, it’s tempting to pretend it doesn’t exist.

But deciding not to think about the risk takes away your power to recognise and prevent it.

Make sure you have that power, and that you equip your children with that same power.

Talk to your child’s coaches, teachers and other mentors

Any youth-serving organisation should have written policies and procedures for child safety.

These policies must provide clear physical and behaviour boundaries about how adults interact with children.

Policies should encourage staff to recognise and report suspicious behaviours.

Avoid one-on-one situations between children and unrelated adults

Any interaction that a child has with an adult who is not a parent should be visible to others.

This one simple rule greatly reduces a child’s risk for sexual abuse.

Without privacy, an offender has fewer chances to abuse a child.

This rule also applies to physical examinations by medical care providers.

Whenever possible, parents and other staff members, such as a nurse, should be in the room and able to observe what is taking place.

Children deserve nothing less than safe environments in which to learn, grow, play, compete and worship.

As adults, we all share a responsibility to protect children from abuse. – TNS

Dr Stacy W. Thomas is an assistant professor of paediatrics at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, United States, where she is a physician member of the Child Protection Team and evaluates children for concerns of abuse and neglect. She also is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Child Abuse and Neglect. Dr Michele LaBotz practises sports medicine at InterMed in Portland, Maine. She also is a member of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.

Article type: free
User access status:
Subscribe now to our Premium Plan for an ad-free and unlimited reading experience!

Sexual Abuse , Sports

   

Next In Health

Try meditating to improve your gut health
Why it's so chaotic at our hospital emergency departments
Chinese resort to traditional remedies to fight Covid-19
Newly discovered gene can rewind your heart's biological age
From tyre to tummy: Tyre microplastics absorbed by lettuce roots
The link between sexual and bladder health for women
Exercises that can help you channel your inner bunny
Injecting stem cells to treat this inherited cause of blindness
Dealing with fatty liver disease through your diet
Here's how to allergy-proof your home

Others Also Read