Apology in U.S. Swimming Scandal Spotlights Struggle to Protect Youth Athletes

 

Apology in U.S. Swimming Scandal Spotlights Struggle to Protect Youth Athletes:
Childhelp and the Foundation for Global Sports Development Offer Safety Solutions for Parents and Children

 

Phoenix, AZ – June 11, 2014 – When it comes to protecting children from sexual abuse, the responsibility of every adult cannot be understated, but the responsibility for leaders in youth-serving organizations is profound.

In a blog post, Chuck Wielgus, the Executive Director of USA Swimming, made his first public apology for some of his choices during the child sexual abuse scandals that have, for many in the swimming world, come to define his 17-year tenure as the head of the national governing body for competitive swimming.

“I wish my eyes had been more open to the individual stories of the horrors of sexual abuse.” Wielgus explained in his June 6 post, “I wish I had known more so perhaps I could have done more.”

The apology accompanied the withdrawal of his name from consideration for induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, a move called for by a group of 19 victims and a number of their supporters, including the Women’s Sports Foundation, in a petition submitted to the ISHOF board of directors.

The petition outlined some of the key facts of Wielgus’ role in the scandal and asserts “In short, when it comes to sexual abuse, Chuck Wielgus has not been a leader in protecting victims; he has instead responded to outside pressure, and only after other avenues of obfuscation have been exhausted.”

The series of events is a continuation of a long-running and embittered struggle over the policies, culture, and attitudes of USA Swimming in its handling of sexual misconduct by coaches that most visibly came to a head in 2010 when Wielgus refused to offer an apology to victims in a national television interview. It has since kept the organization in headlines and under scrutiny from the U.S. Olympic Committee and Congress alike.

In light of these developments and in the interest of better protecting youth athletes, Childhelp and the Foundation for Global Sports Development offer facts and figures from their combined research as well as helpful hints for parents in identifying and addressing abuse in youth athletics.

Abuse occurs in all sports. Coaches are second only to teachers in their frequency of sexual misconduct. Those who perpetrate are often highly qualified and well respected in their sport, allowing them to offend under the radar. Studies indicate that 40% to 50% of athletes have experienced anything from mild harassment to severe abuse. 90% of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way so coaching staff, assistants, parent helpers, other athletes and anyone who comes in contact with a victimized child must be considered. Parents/responsible adults/leaders are asked to become referees on and off the field when it comes to identifying abuse, teaching their children to speak up and be safe, and combating abuse in youth sports. “R.E.F” is an acronym for REPORT, EDUCATE and FIGHT.

Children must learn 5 Rules of the Game to remain secure:

  1. “It’s My Body”: Secretive communication, touch in places a bathing suit covers or anything that makes a child uncomfortable must be reported to parents or a safe adult.
  2. “No Bullying”: Any form of physical, sexual or emotional bullying is inappropriate and should be reported.
  3. “Tell a Safe Adult”: Identify key adults who are a child’s support network for reporting any concerns he/she may have. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD) is a valuable resource for children afraid to come forward or parents unsure of how to take the next step.
  4. “I Have Choices”: Teach children it is OK to run, escape, yell and tell when they sense danger.
  5. “It’s Never My Fault”: When a child has been abused, he/she must be assured they are never at fault. 

Indicators of possible abuse in sports include, but are not limited to:

  • Missing practices
  • Illness
  • Loss of interest and withdrawal
  • Performing significantly below his/her level of ability
  • And any of the signs and symptoms of physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse detailed here in the Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe for Athletes free online curriculum underwritten by the Foundation for Global Sports Development: http://www.childhelp.org/pages/blow-the-whistle-curriculum

Sports Psychologist and Olympic Consultant Dr. Steven Ungerleider said, “I urge parents to review this free material and engage their children in the interactive warm-up designed to embed critical safety concepts into a child’s consciousness while keeping the experience light and enjoyable. The Foundation for Global Sports Development and Childhelp are promoting ethical and safe sportsmanship. We want to ensure that children are having fun and reaching their full potentials.”

To fight abuse, communities can come together to support tougher laws against predators, more stringent security clearance/fingerprinting for all volunteers/staff working with children, and standing in solidarity with survivors, such as the brave swimmers who stepped forward to share their stories to save others. Everyone must join forces to blow the whistle on child abuse in youth athletics.

About Childhelp: Since 1959, Childhelp has brought the light of hope and healing into the lives of countless children as a leading national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping at-risk children. Childhelp's programs and services include residential treatment services, children's advocacy centers, therapeutic foster care, group homes and child abuse prevention, education and training. Childhelp created Speak Up Be Safe for Athletes to address child abuse and bullying. For more information, log on to www.childhelp.org or facebook.com/childhelp.

About the Foundation for Global Sports Development: Working closely with international sports federations, donors and committed athletes, The Foundation for Global Sports Development promotes sportsmanship, education, fair play and ethics among the world's youth. The Foundation gives special emphasis to groups and communities that are most in need or most underserved by current programs, including women, minorities and youth in areas where the risk of delinquency is particularly high. Visit www.globalsportsdevelopment.org to learn more.

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