Organized Sports & Failure to Report: Is Your Child Safe?

Girl baseball team kneeling with their coach, touching hands

By Eliza Buergenthal

What are the Boundaries of the Athlete/Coach Relationship? 
In sports, so much of what it takes to be the best—on the field, court, dance floor or mat—is physical. To perfect a tackle or a squat or pirouette may require physical contact between a coach and an athlete. Sometimes, within that contact, a line is crossed. But how does a child know when something may be inappropriate? How are the boundaries within the athlete/coach relationship defined in a way that is healthy and safe?

Coaches are given an incredible amount of access to our children and need to be held to the same standards as other adults in whose care they are placed (health practitioners, police officers, educators and human service workers, all of whom are mandatory reporters).

As a coach becomes a mentor and advocate for a child on the field, bonds often form between coach and athlete. What can sometimes occur is a sense of duty and obligation on the part of the athlete to the coach. Athletes see how a coach has taken a special interest in them; in cases of manipulation and abuse, this power structure is leveraged to the benefit of the perpetrator. Athletes and parents may not want to report inappropriate behavior because they do not want to disappoint a trusted adult for whom they have feelings of gratitude and respect, or they don’t want to risk losing their coach’s favor or getting kicked off the team. Often athletes are afraid they may jeopardize a community’s pride, their own success, or the trust of their teammates. The threat of suspension of a player, termination of a program or forcing a forfeit in a big game holds power over victims and caregivers alike.

What can parents do? 
Get out in front of it. Acknowledge and talk about the risks with both your child athlete and their coach. Talk about healthy boundaries. Ask coaches, gyms, and recreational centers tough questions – have they had training on working with kids in a way that is safe? Do they know how to recognize signs and symptoms of abuse? What is their reporting policy?

Regardless of whether your child is playing in a premier league or a recreational team, be present. Show up to a random practice. Talk to other parents who have been through the program. When your child is contacted by program staff, make sure that you are included in conversations, or, if necessary, request that all communications come to you directly. Unfortunately, abuse can happen at every level, from Pee Wee Leagues through high school and beyond. Stay involved and stay alert. 

On a larger scale, talk to your Representatives and raise awareness about abuse in your communities. Advocate for comprehensive policies and procedures around recognizing, responding to, and reporting abuse from all of your child’s institutions and programs. Advocate for institutions and states to have strict penalties for those who fail to report abuse. Make sure there are protocols and trainings in place.

When coaches do not receive proper training, and when we do not advocate in our communities for better policies, it not only allows for failure to report abuse when incidents occur, but also for abuse to go on at the expense of future victims. Intervention, prevention and healing is delayed or unable to occur.

We’re here to help. At the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, we have a comprehensive program for outreach and training. BCAC gives coaches, youth serving professionals, and the institutions they work for the tools they need to work with children safely, and to recognize, respond to, and report abuse. When everyone is educated and working together, we can better protect our children, and make a profound difference in the lives of not only our child athletes, but all children. Let’s keep them safe.

Eliza Buergenthal is the Special Assistant to the Executive Leadership Team. She is a recent graduate of Syracuse University where she studied Public Policy, Public Relations, and Management. Eliza first joined the BCAC team as a legislative advocacy intern and plans to eventually attend law school with a focus on policy and lobbying.

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Day of the Girl: We See You

On this Day of the Girl, October 11, 2018, Baltimore Child Abuse Center gives a huge shout out and thank you to all the girls who report abuse and demonstrate unbelievable courage and tenacity. 

Kyle Stephens delivers a victim impact testimony during a sentencing hearing for Dr. Larry Nassar in Lansing
Kyle Stephens delivers a victim impact testimony during a sentencing hearing for Dr. Larry Nassar. (Photo credit: PBS NewsHour)

THANK YOU to Nasser victim Kyle Stephens, whose was accused of lying and was forced to apologize to Nasser when she first came forward, but who persisted and helped open the door for the 200-plus other victims.

THANK YOU to the middle-schooler in the Cherry Creek School District in Denver, Colorado whose school administrators made her recant, apologize and hug the teacher she accused, then suspended her for “false allegations.” But she persisted, hired an attorney, and helped get an $11.5 million settlement against the school on behalf of herself and the predator’s four other victims.

THANK YOU to the Baltimore City teenager whose story no one would believe, but who bravely persisted, enough to support an investigation that turned up undeniable proof that the abuse was happening, just as she’d described it.

To all the brave girls out there, today and every day, thank you for your strength and courage. Never doubt that you are impacting the lives of thousands by owning your stories and bravely finding your voice. You are the light of hope for other girls who are not yet ready to come forward. They see you. We see you. Never back down. We’ve got your back.

BCAC@30 and Nassar

Last night BCAC celebrated our achievements at our Annual Community Gathering. Thanks to those of you who attended, and for those who missed it, we missed you.

If you want to see just what we all did last year, take a look at our 2017 by the Numbers attached. Please share.  In the coming days we’ll have a video version of it as well.

Our event last night was covered by WMAR. You can see the clip here. There are 2 versions of the video. The first from this AM, and the second from last night.

It’s fitting that our annual gathering occurred the same night as the Larry Nassar sentencing for his sexual abuse of dozens of girls. He received a 175 year sentence. Angela Povilaitis, the Michigan Assistant Attorney General who prosecuted the case, said at Nassar’s sentencing 6 points that resonate and mirror what BCAC has stood for over 30 years. Allow me to share them with you all.

  1. We need to listen to and believe children when they report abuse, no matter who the adult is. 
  1. Anyone can be an abuser: As a society our response cannot be that he did not do this – this is how Nassar got away with what he did for so long. 
  1. Delayed disclosure of child sexual abuse is not unique – it’s quite the norm. 
  1. Predators groom their victims and families. 
  1. We must teach our girls and boys to speak up until someone listens and helps. 
  1. Police, child protective services workers, and prosecutors must take on hard cases no matter who the suspect is. They cannot wait until they have the perfect case. They must be victim centered in their work.

BCAC has held to those principles for 30 years. We continue to work in partnership so no child has to suffer the same trauma that these brave young women endured. And last night the President of Michigan State University resigned due to her inaction in the Nassar case as well. Sadly, it looks as if societally we’ve learned little after Penn State – all the more reason to stay on top of what we do.

Last night also represents the soft start of BCAC’s 30th year celebration. If you’re tweeting and posting about us, use #BCAC30.

30 year logo_BCAC_CMYK

We’ve got lots coming in the year ahead. I’m excited for what the future brings. Thanks for what you all do to make this happen.

With appreciation,

Adam

Action 1 of 10 : Save VAWA

Saturday’s Women’s March ignited a movement of activism around the globe. Thousands never before involved, found themselves united behind issues, their voices amplified. And with that amplification, comes the need to keep it going.

Take the personal politics out of Saturday and focus on what it stood for and what it can do next. Among the issues highlighted is the need to stand up for women’s issues and rights. The announcement after the inauguration, and before the march, that the 20 plus year old Violence Against Women’s Act grant and office at DOJ is at risk of being cut is one such issue worth standing up and fighting for, and making your voice heard.

The organizers of the march proposed taking 10 actions in the next 100 days on an issue we care about to keep this momentum going. Action 1 of 10 is to write a postcard to your Senators telling them what matters most to you and how you’re going to fight for it in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

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We suggest you write to your Senator and tell him or her to fight to Save VAWA. You can read yesterday’s post, and I’ll tell you about VAWA’s history and importance. Tell them that you’re concerned about proposed cuts to the Violence Against Women’s Act and then tell them why. Share with them any number of reasons why VAWA is important to you: a personal story, the fact that it saves millions of lives at risk from sexual assault and domestic violence, the impact VAWA has on protecting children from violence, or the fact that it’s been expanded to help protect victims from prison rape and even violence perpetuated by the same sex.

VAWA has become a beacon for millions of vulnerable women, children, and even men, who needed help at their darkest hour. In my 20 years of prosecuting, protecting, and advocating for victims, I have seen first hand how VAWA funds and programs have saved lives. And while these cuts are proposed not to be mean towards women, but to trim the federal budget, consider the cost of domestic violence and sexual assault on society – domestic violence alone is estimated to cost you the America taxpayer $8.3 billion a year.

So take action. Be A Hero. Fill out your postcard and send it in. And if you want to keep the movement going, post a picture of you or your card and include the #SaveVAWA and even #BeAHero so we can see we did!

I’m With Her: Reflections on the Women’s March

Like many of you, I traveled to Washington, DC on Saturday to stand with hundreds of thousands of women (and men!) who had something to say about the state of the world, America, politics, their bodies, and what’s on their mind. The Women’s March on Washington was a great day to be in DC. I brought along my feisty kid who participated in this incredible moment in time and shared it with me, some good friends who traveled and many others.

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Many people want to know why I went? I wanted to stand up for continued protections for women’s health and the health of all. I wanted to stand by women who have been politically marginalized by some. I wanted to stand up and say that the denigration of women and the trivialization of sexual assault should not be tolerated. And I wanted to stand with my daughter as her voice was amplified by 500,000 others (and millions more around the world) that their rights, their protections matter. 

But the final straw was this. On Friday the Trump Administration began discussions on proposed cuts to the US Department of Justice and elimination of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) the signature act signed into law in 1994 (drafted by Joe Biden) that has enabled protection for millions of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. VAWA had bipartisan support when passed in 1994 and reauthorized by with bipartisan support in 2000 and 2005 and signed by then President George W. Bush.

Cutting VAWA would be devastating to millions, continues to send the wrong message, and must be stopped.  

And lest you think that BCAC and I are being partisan on an issue, read our 2012 Op-Ed when the Victims of Child Abuse Act fund was zeroed out by then President Obama. We made our voice known then as well and saved VOCAA.

Try and explain this one to your daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, and sons and brothers all who have been covered by this watershed legislation for over 20 years.

In the coming days, I’ll be sharing what you can do to Save VAWA (#SaveVAWA) and why it has been such an essential tool for protecting victims from violence, something I have dedicated my entire career to doing. BCAC’s growth as a program, includes helping teenagers who are victims of sexual violence, and children who witness domestic violence.

Saturday in DC was peaceful, poignant, funny, enlightening, empowering, and memorable. Some were there to stand up for women, some to stand up for causes, some to stand up against decisions already made by this Administration, and yes some against the President. But altogether this remarkable rally and all that comes next demonstrates that indeed, this is what democracy looks like.

Adam Rosenberg, Executive Director, January 22, 2017

Pokemon Go: Should you play, or Should you go?

The ever changing world of the internet has thrown its latest hurdle to parents of cell-phone wielding children and teens: Pokemon Go. Coverage on Pokemon Go has been excessive, and unless you have been hiding like Pikachu, chances are you have heard of it (but just in case you haven’t click here). Like every other app this game comes with pluses and minuses, and as our Executive Director Adam Rosenberg says “I am not saying no, but I am not ready to say yes.” So here are some things to think about before you or your kids go out and play.

What’s great about Pokemon Go is that the game encourages children to get outdoors and move around – not just sit on the couch. It encourages “IRL” (in real life) meet ups and interaction with other players. However, there have already been reports of the game being used to commit crimes and causing accidents: one player sexually assaulted at a game stop; a “PokeStop” in California located at a facility housing sex offenders; armed robbers “lure” victims; and police patrol car sideswiped by a driver playing the game. These stories illustrate the more concerning safety issues at play – not just with Pokemon Go, but with social media and technology in general.

When playing Pokemon Go, children unintentionally give real life location information which allows the game and other users to identify where they are while playing. Just like on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, Pokemon Go relies on geo-tagging data to be able to place players in the game. Geo-tagging draws a virtual map of your life. It allows others to see your child’s daily habits and routines, and gives them potentially dangerous knowledge of you and your child’s coming and goings. The game also utilizes your phone’s camera to superimpose the image of Pokemon characters onto the real world. Previous incidents with camera hacking, have allowed access to computer cameras and video which recorded people unbeknownst to them and without permission.

Additionally, players can set a “Lure” to draw more Pokemon and ultimately players to a single location. As if the name wasn’t creepy enough, this function can easily be used to attract potential victims to a single space. Equally troubling is that “PokeStops” can sometimes be in unsafe or risky locations. In BCAC’s neighborhood, there is a “PokeStop” and a “Training Gym” next door to a substance abuse treatment center and another in a vacant office.

So what can you do to keep your kids safe? BCAC recommends that parents check out the Social Preference Caps (the settings which can allow parents to set limits on both the chat and trade functions). Make sure that the location services are turned off when the game is not being used, and consider turning off location services for other apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook. Most importantly, BCAC recommends parents:

  1. Take Charge: set ground rules with your kids and understand the Privacy Policies
  2. Monitor: look at what your kids are doing, what sites are they going to, who are they talking to
  3. Communicate: talk to your kids about the very real risk games and social media can pose

Don’t want your home or business to be a PokeStop? BCAC felt that as a space which helps heal traumatized children, it was not appropriate for our center to be one. Therefore, we submitted a request to be removed from the game. You can submit a request to be removed as a stop by clicking here.

So should you “catch them all?” Before we shut the door on Pokemon Go, consider using it as an opportunity to get out there and play as a family. Do not let your kid stumble over sidewalks and walk into standing objects alone while looking for Vaperon or Mewtwo. Explore the game with them, and don’t be afraid to set ground rules on when and where they can play. Or if Pokemon Go or online gaming isn’t for you, grab a ball and a mitt and have an old-fashioned catch, or go for a walk in your local park IRL with your kid, not looking at a phone.

For more information visit BCAC’s website  OR to get training for your child’s school or local PTA on internet safety please contact BCAC by email at training@bcaci.org or by phone at 410-396-6147.

Drew Fidler, LCSW-C is the Policy and Program Development Manager and a Forensic Interviewer at BCAC. Drew interviews child victims of crime and works with Youth Serving Organizations to analyze their systems relating to protecting children, conducts trainings, and writes policy on keeping the kids in their care safe. In her spare time, Drew prefers to play Candy Crush and Words with Friends.

Communicating Healthy Boundaries

As a parent or a staff person at a youth serving organization, do you find it difficult to talk with children about their bodies and staying safe? Below please a guideline on how to communicate healthy boundaries.

What do I say? 

Bodies, Healthy Boundaries, and Touching

  • Teach your children the anatomically correct names for their body parts.
  • Teach them that no one should touch their private parts except to keep them clean and healthy.
  • Teach the difference between secrets and surprises, and that touching is never secret.
  • Talk matter-of-factly about private parts.  If your child sees that you are comfortable talking about sexuality, they are more likely to come to you if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or if they have a question.
  • Keep explanations basic and at the level of the child’s age.

Establish Family Rules about Boundaries and Touching

  • Everyone should have the right to privacy in dressing, bathing, and toileting.  If any adult or child breaks these rules, there should be a discussion with repercussions.
  • Teach your children that they can say “No” to any type of touch, and that their “No” will be respected.
  • Demonstrate boundaries and how to say “No” in your own life.
  • Learn more about establishing family rules from the CDC

What are “don’t’s” when talking to my children about sexual abuse? 

  • Avoid discussing “stranger danger” when talking your children about child sexual abuse.  Ninety percent of the time a child is victimized by someone the family knows and trusts.  Explain to your child that no one, not even a friend of mom or dad’s, should touch your child’s private parts and if anyone does the child should tell more than one safe adult right away.
  • Avoid using the terminology “good touch” and “bad touch,” as this can be confusing for a child.  Sometimes inappropriate touching may feel good, so use words like appropriate, inappropriate, safe, or unsafewhen teaching rules about touching.
  • Try not to scare your child by overwhelming them with too much information at once.  Instead, incorporate family rules and messages about boundaries into your every day discussions about basic safety, this way they will understand that personal safety is as basic and important as other safety rules like “Never play with fire” and “Never play with guns.”
  • Avoid making your child feel ashamed or embarrassed for asking a question about his/her body, private parts, or touching.  If your child asks you a question at the wrong time, let him/her know his/her question is important and address it as soon as you can, or in more appropriate setting.

How do I start a conversation? 

  • Use these suggested reading books to start a conversation about bodies and boundaries.
  • Watch for signs that your child is interested in sexuality.
  • Recognize teachable moments and use these as opportunities to start a conversation.
  • Be an “Askable Adult.”  Let your child know they can ask you anything!

To Learn More:

  • Schedule a workshop about communication in your home, religious center, organization, or at your child’s school.

For additional resources, visit the following websites:

Darkness To Light 

Kid Smartz – a program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children