WEST PALM BEACH, July 11, 2012 – When he made the choice to abuse the young men in his care, Jerry Sandusky betrayed us all.
As a parent, how many times have we dropped off our children under the watch of coaches for practices or game warm ups, using the time to run errands or catch up at home?
Thankfully, most coaches are not Jerry Sandusky. They are not pedophiles or evil. They are kind, hardworking adults who often volunteer to help kids enjoy and learn about sport.
Unfortunately, and tragically, some are evil. Some are pedophiles.
How do we know the coach who spends hours with our children, who our children adore and perform for, are not pedophiles or abusers?
Almost every sports program in the country now requires potential coaches to submit to a background investigation. These checks ensure that no convicted criminal will coach our children.
Even individuals with misdemeanors are often excluded from coaching for at least five years after a conviction.
The problem, however, is that many pedophiles have not been convicted for a crime. Background investigations do not include arrests or allegations. By the time Jerry Sandusky was convicted of sexually molesting ten boys he had been abusing children for decades.
Sandusky had no criminal record, and would have easily passed a background investigation.
While background checks are an excellent tool, the true responsibility for keeping children safe resides with the parent.
Following are five common sense tips to help avoid placing your child in a dangerous situation:
1. Go to sports practices and games, karate or ballet classes and watch the coach. While parents can’t be at every practice, every lesson, every game, make an effort to go to at least some of the time and watch how the coach interacts with the children.
Watch how he or she talks to the children, motivates them and physically interacts with your child.
2. Listen to what your child, other players, and parents say about the coach. Children know when something is uncomfortable, they know when coaches favor certain players, and they certainly know if a coach disappears with a player into a bathroom or car. Other parents also often have inklings of suspicion that they are hesitant to share but may discuss if approached by another parent.
3. Set boundaries. Never allow a child to be alone in private with a coach. Do not ask a coach to give a child a ride home or to any other location. Never let a child go to a locker room or a shower with a coach.
4. Trust your instinct. If you sense something isn’t right, you are probably correct. Maybe the coach isn’t a pedophile, but if your alarms go off, something may be wrong.
5. Talk to your child. Ask him about practice, about the coach, about he or she treats other players, and whether the child is comfortable with the coach. The best information on what happens at practice and games will come from your child. Make sure you take any concerns he or she may have seriously and listen to any issues they bring up.
If you have well founded suspicions, report them. Obviously, an allegation of sexual abuse is very serious, but too many people are afraid to speak out, letting pedophiles continue to prey on children. Abusers thrive on secrets and fear, knowing that most people will not come forward, not wanting to cause harm or create problems.
The Sandusky case does not mean we need to become half crazed adults who put GPS microchips in their children and never let them stray more than three inches away. It does not mean forbidding them to play sports or putting every action under a microscope.
It does, however, remind us we need to be vigilant. We need to be aware and to pay attention. We need to watch for danger signs, even in the places that appear safe on the outside.
Because an ounce of prevention really is better than a lifetime trying to cure. When he made the choice to abuse the young men in his care, Jerry Sandusky betrayed us all.
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