Preventing Abuse: 2018 Requirements for Youth Sports Programs

The news was shocking: For three decades, a U.S. Olympic Committee team doctor sexually assaulted hundreds of elite gymnasts and other athletes. How did this happen? 

In the world of athletics, it’s a common practice for coaches, trainers, support staff, and sports medicine professionals to be alone with a child. The nature of working with young athletes allows abusers to hide in plain sight and gain unquestioned access to a child.

However, it’s not just abusers who victimize children. Organization officials that ignore or downplay the warning signs or reports of abuse—because they fear loss of profit or prestige, or seek to reduce legal liability—also play a role in silencing the victims that allows the abuse to continue.

Federal lawmakers recognize the urgent need to protect athletes. The Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 (“Safe Sport Act”) mandates a new standard of care for youth athletic programs. The law:

  • Expands mandatory reporting requirements for adults involved with amateur youth sports

  • Extends statutes of limitation for victims of abuse

  • Authorizes the U.S. Center for SafeSport to implement policies and procedures intended to make amateur youth sports less susceptible to child abuse 

Who is Required to Comply?

The Safe Sport Act directly affects four groups, but other youth sports organizations may be indirectly affected:

  1. National Governing Body (NGB)—an amateur sports organization that is recognized by the United States Olympic Committee.

  2. Paralympic (athletes with disabilities) sports organizations.

  3. Amateur sports organizations with membership in an NGB.

  4. Amateur sports organizations— that participate in interstate or international amateur athletic competition, and involve adults interacting with minors. May include teams, leagues, camps, sports facilities, tournament hosts, churches, and schools with no NGB affiliation.

The New Standard of Care

The Safe Sport Act requires organizations to implement policies and procedures relating to mandatory reporting, training and oversight, and proactive child abuse prevention. Altogether, this is known as the new standard of care. We encourage all organizations with sports of any kind—even if your organization isn’t specifically required under the Safe Sport Act—to review and revise their current policies to better care for youth athletes. 

Here’s how you comply:

Mandatory reporting. All states identify certain individuals as mandatory reporters, but it varies widely state to state. The Safe Sports Act requires certain individuals to report suspected abuse of an amateur athlete regardless of whether they are considered mandatory reporters by their state. The new law describes these covered individuals as adults authorized by:

  • An NGB,

  • An NGB member, or

  • An amateur sports organization that participates in interstate or international amateur athletic competition

to interact with a minor or amateur athlete at an amateur sports organization facility or event. The covered individual must report suspected abuse within 24 hours to these two entities:

  • The U.S. Center for SafeSport (does not apply to organizations that are unaffiliated with an NGB)

  • Your state or local authorities

Implement policies and procedures. In addition to reporting requirements, organizations affected will have to comply with policies and procedures requirements. NGBs, Paralympic Sports Organizations, and those sanctioned by NGBs must comply with policies and procedures developed by the U.S. Center for Safe Sport. These include:

  • A mechanism that allows for easy reporting of child abuse

  • Reasonable procedures to limit one-on-one interactions with a minor amateur athlete 

  • Procedures to prohibit retaliation against an individual making a report of child abuse

  • Oversight/auditing procedures for NGBs and Paralympic sports organizations

  • A mechanism to prevent an adult who is the subject of an abuse allegation to interact with a minor amateur athlete

For other amateur sports organizations that the law applies to, complying will include developing policies and procedures to include:

  • Reasonable procedures to limit one-on-one interactions with a minor amateur athlete

  • Consistent training regarding child abuse reporting and prevention to all adult members who are in regular contact with amateur minor athletes and to members who are minors, subject to parental consent

  • Prohibiting retaliation against any individual making a report of child abuse.

Abuse Prevention Through Awareness Training

Prevention and on-going training in policies and procedures is key to protecting the dignity of all children. To limit a predator’s access to children, your ministry should learn:

  • How to recognize grooming behaviors. Abusers prepare a child for abuse by using specific “grooming” techniques that are designed to earn the trust of the child and the child’s gatekeepers: parents, guardians, siblings, teachers, and coaches.

  • The signs of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect.

  • How to report abuse.

A Moral and Legal Duty to Protect Youth Athletes

A child who has been sexually abused feels great devastation.  Abuse can demoralize a child for life and cause depression and low self-esteem—all of which can lead to trust and relationship issues, substance abuse, self-harm, suicide, and continuing the cycle of abuse themselves.

By implementing a rigorous standard of care, you can expose a predator in your current ranks or prevent a predator from infiltrating your organization. And you proclaim that the safety and health of children in your care is your organization’s number one priority.