“The first blog article from Darkness to Light on the subject of child sexual abuse prevention was very well-received by clients. We appreciate the positive feedback we received. Many clients thanked us for bringing this critical issue to the forefront.
Thank you Tom Callos for making the introduction to Darkness to Light (D2L). We are continuing to work with D2L and pleased to present the following from Erika Rowell, Program Support Manager for D2L, as part of our continuing education.” - Joe Galea, President of Member Solutions
Education is the first step in prevention of child sexual abuse. Here I’ve answered commonly-asked questions to help you better understand child sexual abuse. The second and third sections provide tips to help you identify the signs of child sexual abuse, along with steps to take if you suspect child sexual abuse is taking place. Read through the FAQs, and if you have any questions or comments, please post them below.
Understanding Child Sexual Abuse
From the highest levels of sports down to youth sports, instructors and coaches harboring bad motives are able to make these connections with kids and sexually abuse them, often for many seasons.
What is it about sports and instructors/coaches that makes this so prevalent? How do we break this cycle?
The vast majority of instructors and coaches have nothing but the best intentions for children. They play an important role in a child’s life as an adult figure and mentor. Most of us can remember a beloved instructor or coach in our youth who inspired and motivated us. Unfortunately, there are those that seek youth sports as an avenue to be around children. Offenders are drawn to environments that are easy to establish trusting relationships with children and adults.
Why do children who are abused often remain silent about what they are going through?
Today most children still do not disclose abuse. With Martial Arts, the trust and bond that is developed between the predator and student is often a very strong one, and the pain of revealing abuse can be too great for a child to speak up. In many cases the predator is a loved, trusted, and highly-respected member of the community. The child has been manipulated by the abusive person and will have been “groomed” to believe that it is their fault, or that no one will believe them if they tell. For boys, it may be especially difficult because they feel like they should have been strong and should have been able to stop the abuse from happening in the first place.
Recognizing the Signs of Child Sexual Abuse
Martial Arts school instructors, staff, and business owners often deal with children of all ages. What signs indicate a child is being abused?
Signs of sexual abuse are most commonly presented in children as changes in mood, behavior, and/or demeanor. These changes can include anxiety, depression, anger, aggressiveness towards other children and/or adults, as well as change in attitude about school, sports, or other activities they may have previously enjoyed. Abnormal sexual behavior, or language that is advanced for their age, can also be a sign.
As an administrator overseeing a youth program, what are the signs that may indicate an instructor has crossed the line with a young student?
It is first important that you have clear policies within your business that state what the rules are for safe interactions with children. When clear policies exist and are effectively communicated to all staff, it is easy for an administrator or peer to recognize when someone is breaking the rules.
Some examples of red-flag behaviors might include:
- Singling out a particular child with special attention or gifts
- Seeking or spending one-on-one time with a child beyond the scheduled program times and activities
- Being overly physical with a child that goes beyond a side hug, high five, or pat on the back
- Using sexual language or innuendos with children
- Exposing children to racy images or pornography
If an instructor, staff member, or business owner suspects one of their students is being abused at home, or at some other activity, what should they do?
First, it is important that all Martial Arts staff members — including the business owner — know the abuse reporting laws in their state. All 50 states require that professionals who work with children report reasonable suspicions of child abuse. Some states require that anyone with suspicions report it. Information about each state’s requirements can be found at www.childwelfare.gov or you can call the ChildHelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline at 1.800.422.4453.
Some states designate Child Protective Services as the agency that accepts reports of suspected child abuse, while other states designate the police. Some do not designate at all, or both are designated. Many states have centralized toll-free lines that accept reports of abuse for the entire state. The Child Welfare Information Gateway website can tell you where to make a report in your state, or you can call the ChildHelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline at 1.800.422.4453.
If the legal system does not provide adequate protection for a child, contact Justice for Children at 713.225.4357 or http://justiceforchildren.org/
What are you to do if you suspect abuse, but are fearful of jumping to the wrong conclusion?
A person does not have to have proof that abuse is occurring, just a reasonable suspicion. As with any child who appears depressed or withdrawn or angry, as a responsible adult, you should take the time to ask the child if everything is ok, check in with them, and avail yourself to them if they need to talk about anything. Martial Arts professionals can be a “safe” person for a child who may want to disclose or seek help for their situation.
In my next blog post, I will address how to prevent child sexual abuse and how to establish a child sexual abuse prevention policy in your Martial Arts business.
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
Related article: Child Sexual Abuse: Protecting Your Students & Business