In my last post, I provided steps to help detect and report child sexual abuse. But what you can do to prevent child sexual abuse from happening in the first place? How can you protect your business, and more importantly, protect your students from child sexual abuse predators?
Here are some frequently-asked questions to help pave the way to prevention and establish policy in your Martial Arts school.
Child Sexual Abuse Prevention
As an administrator of a youth program, often with dozens of instructors, how do you go about ensuring that these individuals don’t abuse students?
The best way to protect children in a youth program is to have a clear policy and a code of conduct that clearly states what the rules are for interacting with children and youth. Effective policy should include:
- Appropriate selection and screening of volunteers
- Monitoring and supervision as feasible
- Policy that eliminates one-on-one time with kids that is not observable (in public view) or interruptible
- Policy that prohibits one-on-one interaction with children outside the program
- Child sexual abuse prevention training for all staff as a requirement of participating
Policies should be communicated and accepted by all staff and volunteers as part of their participation in the youth program. There should be clear reporting procedures for suspicions, and a zero tolerance for any violations.
Parents turn their kids over to instructors that they’ve never met before when they enroll them in a Martial Arts children’s program. How do parents and Martial Arts businesses go about ensuring that nothing inappropriate takes place, especially since many parents are unable to be at every class, lesson, and tournament in its entirety?
One thing that Martial Arts schools can do is ensure that parents are aware of the policies around child protection. Parents should understand the safety rules in your school which may include rules such as: instructors are not permitted to transport students alone, and instructors are not permitted to spend time with individual students outside the Martial Arts program. Instructors, school owners, and staff can also encourage parents to attend all classes, lessons, and tournaments.
Many instructors can be very “hands-on” during classes, lessons, and tournaments (i.e. hugging students for doing something well). Because of the changing youth sports landscape, and heightened concern of child predators, do instructors need to change how they interact with kids?
First, it is important to acknowledge that kids need appropriate touches from adults. Supportive and encouraging touches show kids we care for them. It is good for their confidence and self-esteem. There are some fairly simple rules that can be followed that will provide this support and encouragement, while also respecting appropriate physical boundaries. Here are a couple examples: Pats on the butt should be replaced with pats on the shoulder, or top of the head, or high fives. Full frontal hugs should be replaced with side hugs.
During classes Martial Arts instructors have to have close contact with kids, for example a Martial Arts instructor may adjust a student’s arm placement for proper technique. How can well-meaning instructors teach kids these days without appearing as though they have ulterior motives?
Close contact and physical touch is often necessary for instruction, supporting, and spotting/safety. The most important thing to remember here is that these types of interactions must take place with other adults present or in full view of others. They should be provided only when it’s in the best interest of the child. Instructors should also take cues from the child with respect to touch, and always respect their needs.
Defining Policy in Your Martial Arts Business
What should be the message regarding touching kids? Is it possible to clearly define what is and isn’t appropriate?
The message you provide to staff should convey that: the rules for touching are important, that it is important to honor the physical boundaries of others, and that it is extremely important to protect students.
It is possible to define appropriate touches within the context of a particular sport. Start by defining the boundaries. Make sure everyone understands why boundaries are important to personal safety. In general, areas where touch is allowed can be defined as touches to arms, upper back, head, and hands. Touching of chest, stomach, and lower back are not ok. Instead, use verbal commands to make instructional adjustments. Of course, never touch where bathing suits cover.
You can also define specific times when touch may be allowed such as for injury treatment. It is important to note the touch boundaries vary depending on the instructing responsibilities and sport. For example, touch is necessary by instructors for Martial Arts instruction and would be different than touch and instruction given by swimming coaches. The most important thing to remember is that touch is only for the benefit of the child, and not the adult.
I hope you found this post informative and look forward to providing more information and tips on preventing sexual child abuse in the months ahead. As always, if you have any questions, please post them below, and I will answer them for you.
Erika Rowell is the Program Support Manager for Darkness to Light (D2L), a national non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse. The organization''s sexual abuse prevention training program, Stewards of Children, is taught by more than 3,500 facilitators in all 50 U.S. states and 15 additional countries. For more information on the Darkness to Light Stewards of Children and Partners in Prevention programs, visit www.D2L.org.