Proactive approach needed to protect young athletes from child abusers

A judge sentenced former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar for assaulting dozens of young gymnasts calling into question safety in sports.

2 Investigates looked into the law and efforts to encourage people to come forward at the first sign of abuse. Specifically, questions were raised at what school administrators and youth groups are doing to protect young athletes.

California law lays out the “Duty to Protect Students,” described in detail on the Department of Education website. While the department doesn’t track the specific number of sexual assaults or abuse allegations against teachers or coaches, it does require districts to review the legal requirements.

Specifically, every school or school district must adopt a policy to stop discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying. Additionally, there has to be a formal complaint process and school districts are required to investigate each and every complaint.

Schools must also publicize the procedures every year to students, parents and employees all in an effort to promote a safe environment.

There are also clear and strict child abuse identification and reporting guidelines. School employees, administrators and coaches are considered mandated reporters, meaning they must contact law enforcement if they suspect any child abuse or sexual misconduct. If they don’t they could face six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

In 2015, a new law was enacted to require annual training to identify and report potential cases of sexual abuse. California even developed a new tool in the form of an online four-hour training program for anyone in contact with students or student athletes.

One organization called the U.S. Center for Safe Sport is trying to be proactive to prevent any sexual abuse from happening within athletic organizations. It even has an online database and allows young athletes or others to report allegations of sexual assault or misconduct within the U.S. Olympic or Paralympic organizations.

Safe Sport also developed a code of conduct in hopes other school groups or sport organizations will take that policy and adopt and implement something similar.

CEO Shellie Pfohl said parents should be asking what policies are in place to protect children and then talk with their kids about it.

“As parents, we have to have open dialogue with our kids about these subjects and it has to be an ongoing dialogue,” Pfohl said. “We have to instill the sense of boundaries and being the boss of our own bodies and also instill in our kids that if someone asks you to keep a secret, what would you do? Would you feel comfortable coming to me? So they have to understand where they can go, who they can turn to in terms of providing that safe environment.”

While education and training is number one, she said schools and organizations could be doing even more to stop potential abuse.

“We have to provide an environment where it’s okay to speak up and as bystanders that we know where to turn if we see something or we want to talk to someone about it or we’re not quite sure if what we saw was appropriate or not and how to address that,” Pfohl said. “There have to be safe places for individuals to turn.”

State records show, in the past year, more than 300 cases of child sex abuse were reported and investigated by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.