Last month, we informed our readers about the ™Safe Sport Act,∫ a new federal law enacted to protect minors from sexual abuse in youth-serving organizations and businesses. Pedophiles commonly target their prey in youth-based activities, including the martial arts, where children collectively represent over 50% of our industry's active student body. In this important follow-up article from a past issue of MASuccess, we turned to Dr. Anna Salter, a leading authority on the subject for advice. She teaches us how school owners can protect their young students from pedophilia.
The numbers don’t lie: According to some of the latest U.S. statistics, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of child sexual abuse. Headlines and news stories abound about how pedophiles have sought their victims in all aspects of modern society, especially in youth-based activities and organizations.
The situation erupted into a national crisis with the highly publicized arrest and recent criminal conviction of Larry Nassar, the former medical doctor for USA Gymnastics. Astoundingly, some 265 female gymnasts, among them famous Olympic champions, have accused Nassar of sexual abuse when they were minors.
And now, Congress has enacted a new law to enhance the protection from sexual abuse of minors involved in youth-serving businesses. (See August 2018 MASuccess, “How the New “Safe Sport Act” Impacts You and Your School.”)
Though all categories of youth-serving businesses are required to establish reasonable procedures to protect young athletes, the new legislation on this point is somewhat weak. Clearly, the intent is for youth sport/activity organizations and businesses to establish policies and procedures that prevent abuse. But the Safe Sport Act provides little direct guidance.
To fill in that gap, MASuccess approached one of the leading authorities on the subject — author, lecturer and consultant Dr. Anna Salter. Her insights in this article will equip owners with a set of standards to enhance the safety of their schools while protecting the students in their care.
Spotting the Offender
Many people hold onto the mistaken belief that a pedophile is easily spotted in a crowd. They believe that if they were to see a pedophile attempting to target children under their care, they would quickly be able to identify and isolate that individual and immediately separate him or her from the children. Dr. Salter warns that this is not the case, however.
“It is dangerous to think that you can pick them out of a crowd because, as has been witnessed time and time again, pedophiles easily blend in,” she explains.
Consequently, martial arts school owners must rethink their ability to immediately identify someone who has illicit intentions for the students under their care.
“We have to cut down on opportunities for offenders to get access to kids,” Dr. Salter warns. “We have to accept the fact that they’re going to look and talk and act like the rest of us. Many of them are going to be congenial, successful in other areas, and easy to get along with.”
Likeability and Public Behavior
As we now understand, pedophiles are commonly not the trench coat-wearing deviants that the mainstream media once portrayed them to be. They walk among us and blend in quite readily.
Dr. Salter states, “We tend to think that if someone is likeable, that means he or she is also trustworthy. But this is not always the case. To actually be able to identify and deal with the threat of sex offenders, you must separate those two things: likeability and trustworthiness.
“You have to understand that you may not be able to recognize them. Simply because they are likeable does not make them safe to leave alone with children. In fact, the real pros in abusing children make sure that they are very likeable.”
Even seasoned black belts, trained to read signals emitted by those with bad or dangerous intentions, can be fooled.
To keep children safe, Dr. Salter believes that background checks on any potential instructors, and even volunteers, at your school are a must. Unfortunately, according to MASuccess legal columnist Phil Goss, Jr., that’s not a foolproof measure in and of itself.
“There’s no background test or report available that is infallible in determining if someone you employ is a sexual predator,” Goss warns.
Dr. Salter admits such due diligence will fail to catch most of them. But still, it’s the first line of defense to safeguard your students and to protect your business in the unfortunate event of a future abuse incident.
Dr. Salter also believes it’s essential to state the purpose of the protection of children as one of every school owner’s primary goals to any potential employee and volunteer. It should be done when that person is hired, before he or she is ever allowed on the mat.
No Child Left Alone
In the world of martial arts training, there is commonly a lot of physical contact between the students. This is particularly true in grappling arts such jiu-jitsu, judo and wrestling, where physical contact cannot be avoided. But, owners must set boundaries and monitor the degree to which any interpersonal contact is used between a teacher and a young student.
“Most coaches or trainers are not going to abuse kids,” Dr. Salter states. “But what all of us must understand is that the ones who will are going to look just like the ones who won’t. So, a school owner must take precautions with everybody. That means instigating school rules such as, ‘No one alone with a child.’”
School owners who institute this policy should actually spell it out to new students and their parents. Parents in particular will be impressed with the precautionary measure.
Two Sides of a Coin: Victims Who Speak Out and Those Who Remain Silent
More often than not, according to media reports, a child who is being abused is afraid to tell her or his story to adults.
“You must tell kids that if they are uncomfortable with a coach for any reason, they must tell someone about it,” Dr. Salter asserts.
She knows, of course, that simply telling people will not always stop a predator.
Pedophiles are cunning. They employ masterful manipulation techniques that often keep a young victims silent.
That’s the cruel irony of these incidents. Once manipulated, children often believe they’re doing the right thing by keeping the molestation secret and protecting their abuser from disclosure.
Speaking of cruelty, pedophiles will often threaten their victims into silence.
The ultimate responsibility of protecting young students within the walls of a martial arts academy rests solely on the shoulders of the school owner and the instructors. But students need to be educated that they, too, can reach out and seek help from others if they witness inappropriate advances or believe that something unfitting is taking place between on instructor or school owner one of their classmates.
Strictly Forbid Instructor-Student Dating
More common within our industry are cases of an 18- or 19-year-old junior instructor being attracted to a 15- or 16-year-old student of the opposite sex and inviting them out on a date after class. The reality is, in most states a 15- or 16-year-old is legally a minor. Any intimate contact between a minor and an adult is a crime. Clearly, such behavior does cross the line into abuse and each school owner must be aware of and address this issue with teenage staff members.
To avoid any notion of impropriety, owners should institute a strict, non-dating policy between staff and students.
Of course, there’s the other side of the issue. There have been countless cases of people who have had their reputations ruined by accusation that were later proved false. Some peoplehave even lost their businesses due to the untrue accusations of someone who has ulterior motives. It is for this reason that implementing school rules such as the previously discussed “No one alone with a child” is so critical.
Action Versus Inaction
From a martial arts business perspective, school owners can understand the financial liability that would be incurred if a young child were to fall prey to abuse within their school or at the hands of one of their instructors or staff. If nothing else, that should drive home the point that this issue must be understood, defined and studied. Plans must be devised to never let anything inappropriate happen within the walls of a martial arts business.
This, too, must be the case across the board in our industry. Our schools’ first responsibility must be to protect the students in our care. Set up strict guidelines that instructors, staff members and students must adhere to. Stop it before it happens!
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