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Youth Sports And The Risks For Children

Investigators in Canada have tracked the cases of amateur sports coaches who have been charged with sexual crimes against children in the past two decades.

The joint CBC News and Sports investigation found at least 222 coaches have been convicted of sexual offenses involving more than 600 victims under 18. Another 34 accused coaches are currently on trial for alleged sex crimes. In addition, the charged and convicted coaches were involved in 36 different sports.

Charges include sexual assault, sexual exploitation, child luring, and making or possessing child pornography. Most of the victims were athletes training with the coaches.

Although the defendants were charged between 1998 and 2018, the abuse happened months or years before that.

In fact, according to Sandra Kirby, Olympic rower and University of Winnipeg sociology professor, there could be "thousands" of other victims who have not yet come forward. Kirby also pointed out that "No sport is immune to this."

Several cases of high-profile coaches and other sports staff have been in the news in recent years, in both U.S. and Canada. In Canada, hockey had the highest number of charges against coaches (86). Of that total, 59 were convicted and eight are still facing trial.

Soccer had the second highest number of coaches charged at 40, 27 of whom were convicted, and two coaches are still facing trial.

Experts say sports organizations have had anti-abuse policies for years without knowing "the full scope of the problem."

Kirby believes sports organizations must be transparent regarding these convictions. They should provide all information on coaches who have been reprimanded or suspended to the public. Parents need to know if their child is being coached by a person who is potentially dangerous. Kirby says full transparency and consistent rules focused on prevention of sex crimes may help reduce the number victims. Lori Ward and Jamie Strashin "Sex offences against minors: Investigation reveals more than 200 Canadian caches convicted in last 20 years" https://www.cbc.ca/sports/amateur-sports-coaches-sexual-offences-minors-1.5006609 (Feb. 10, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

Organizations that work with children usually do a thorough background check before hiring employees. While this is a key first step, this doesn’t provide any protection from offenders without a criminal record.

When CBC contacted 35 national sports organizations and 133 provincial sports organizations to ask if they had a public list of coaches and volunteers who have been banned, and/or charge or convicted of a crime, only 86 responded. Of that total, only seven said they publish some form of this information on their websites and only Gymnastics Ontario provided the full reason for a suspension.

What can sports organizations do to help prevent child sexual abuse in youth sports?

  • Conduct an exhaustive background check on all job applicants and volunteers who want to work in the organization.
  • Check the references of the applicants. Ask if they ever saw the applicant behave in a suspicious or inappropriate manner.
  • Have strict guidelines on how coaches and other staff interact with athletes.
  • Practice times, games, and trips should always be well-supervised.
  • Know that there are certain high-risk places and situations for abuse such as the locker room, the playing field, social events, trips away, and the athlete's or coach's home or car.
  • Have a public list of coaches and volunteers who have been banned, and/or charge or convicted of a crime.
  • Have a reporting system in place that will help victims and witnesses of abuse come forward and report sex crimes that have taken place.
  • If you have a reasonable suspicion child sexual abuse is occurring or has occurred, report it immediately to law enforcement.
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