In February, a new federal law with stricter mandates was enacted to prevent sexual abuse of minors involved in amateur sports and physical activities. The sweeping legislation targets all youth-serving organizations and private businesses, which includes martial arts associations and individual schools. Over 50% of the active-student population in our industry today is composed of kids under 18. To enhance their protection, we need to comply immediately to the new law’s requirements.
New Federal Law Protects Minors
The highly publicized arrest and recent criminal conviction of Larry Nassar, a decades-long former medical doctor with USA Gymnastics, shocked the entire world, in and outside of sports. Astoundingly, some 265 female gymnasts, among them famous Olympic champions, have accused Nassar of sexually abusing them when they were minors.
Nassar’s case was the turning point. U.S. Government lawmakers finally took stricter measures to protect minors involved in sports and physical activities from sexual abuse.
On January 3, 2018, nearly unanimously, Congress passed “Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017.” (For expediency, people are calling it the “Safe Sport Act.”) President Trump signed the bill into law on February 14, 2018. To read the entire law as passed by Congress, Google: S.534 - Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017.
The new federal legislation mandates certain protections for young athletes, especially in cases of sexual abuse accusations. A minor is defined as anyone under the age of 18.
Your First Step: What Category Do You Come Under?
In general, there are four essential categories of those impacted by the Safe Sport Act. We’ve revised the wording of them below so you know those most relevant to our industry:
Level 1 – National Governing Body (NGB)
Level 2 – Paralympic Sports Organization (PSO)
Level 3 – Martial arts school participating in interstate or international competitions
Level 4 – Martial arts school that does not participate in competitions
The categories, as presented above, are self-explanatory. If you’re a sports-oriented school and you and your students travel out of state to compete, you’re in Level 3. Here, the requirements are more stringent. The majority of U.S.-based martial arts schools, however, are not competition-focused and thus fall into Level 4.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll mainly address those two levels.
National Governing Bodies and Non-NGBs
For officially recognized NGBs, like Olympic taekwondo and judo, the new law’s abuse-protection measures are far more sweeping and complex. That creates a massive challenge for those in charge of these organizations. Officers running these NGBs are apparently responsible for full compliance by all of its organizational members.
Further, non-NGB organizations also fall under the law’s umbrella. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S.-based martial arts associations, large and small, in our field. The law doesn’t appear to be as stringent with non-NGBs as it is official NGBs. Nevertheless, we strongly recommend that all martial arts organizations make sure every one of its member schools comply with the measures cited in the Safe Sport Act for individual youth-serving businesses.
Level 4: The Majority of Martial Arts School Owners
Let’s start with Level 4, since the vast majority of American martial arts schools aren’t sports-oriented. Of course, we realize there’s also a percentage of studios that are both competition-focused and conventional. Meaning, some of the school’s students compete and others do not.
But to keep things simple here, Level 4 would embrace schools teaching empty-hand self-defense, fitness, stand-up and grappling arts, and any form of weapons.
Level 4 studios are required to adhere to a new “standard of care:” a reasonable standard for all organizations providing youth sport programming or activities. Unfortunately, the new law does not provide a definition of reasonable “standard of care.”
Prevention policies. All adults in your school that interact with any children are required to report suspicions of an abused child to law enforcement. Both volunteers and paid employees are mandated reporters.
Prevention training. The mandatory prevention training is quite specific in the new law. Martial arts schools “must offer and provide consistent training to all adult members who are in regular contact with amateur athletes [students] who are minors, and, subject to parental consent, to members who are minors regarding prevention and reporting of child abuse.”
Adult-youth interaction. According to the new law, you must “establish reasonable procedures to limit one-on-one interactions between an amateur athlete [student] who is a minor and an adult.” They must be “in an observable and interruptible distance from another adult.”
Study the “grooming process” and teach it to your staff. The key to prevention is a thorough understanding of the cunning grooming process used by the sexual offender. The predator’s process proceeds in this way:
selection of and access to a child within the offender’s age and gender preference
winning the trust of the victim and his or her family and/or coaches/instructors
seizing opportunities to be alone with the child
grooming that child for sexual interaction, usually by desensitizing the victim to nudity
acting out the abuse
threatening the victim in order to maintain silence
Notification. You must educate not only your paid staff and volunteers, but also your adult students about their requirement to notify law enforcement in the event of suspected abuse. You can do this by:
putting a poster up in your studio
adding a paragraph to your student handbook
posting a notice on your website and/or social media page
Level 3: Where Things Get Complicated
The Level 3 category for competition-oriented schools is where the policies get more complex. Obviously, that’s because kids travel to out-of-state tournaments under adult supervision. This places far more responsibility on the adult school owners and instructors in charge of them. But, perhaps because of the travel situation, the new law also appears to place stricter regulations within the schools of Level 3 parties.
Here are some of the Safe Sport Act mandates placed on Level 3 parties:
Background checks. First, all paid staff members and volunteers must be background-checked. Although it’s true that very few sexual abusers have been successfully screened out by background checks, we must still legally conduct them.
Annual training. You must provide prevention training annually for your paid staff and volunteers. It should include education regarding the law, their legal obligations under the law and your commitment to keeping kids safe. Further, the training should educate your staff about the typical victim’s profile and the abuser’s “grooming process.”
Minors reporting to adults. You must make the minor students in your school aware of at least two individuals there to whom they can report any abuse concerns about a team member or volunteer. If a child has a “creepy” feeling about an instructor or volunteer, he/she must be able to report it.
The last concern for compliance by Level 3 studios is maintaining records of everyone’s training. If you don’t record the policy, procedure and compliance in writing, legally it never happened.
You must have detailed records confirming when and how each one of the mandatory steps in the new law have been taken. That means you must record in writing the dates you implemented each policy, as well as the names of your employees and volunteers and the dates you conducted the required prevention training of them.
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