Futuristic Criminal Investigations-Part XVIII

Specializing In Forensic
 Child Sexual Abuse Investigations

By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc

This past week has the world looking at what has been happening at Penn State University for the past 14 years. I have yet to figure out why everyone seems shocked that a coach sexually abused a young athlete that he had contact with. The statistics on who sexually abuses children are consistent in that at least 90% of those who are sexually assaulted knew the sexual offender.
The gold medalist Deena Deardurff Schmidt, “…an Olympic swimming gold medalist at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, that between the ages 11 and 15 she was repeatedly molested by her swim coach. Schmidt said she did not tell anyone at the time for fear it would hurt her swimming career, only told her parents at age 17, and, up to recently, had only shared the information with a few coaches and close friends. When she reported the sexual abuse to USA Swimming in the late 1980s, Schmidt claims she was told that she could not lodge a formal complaint because she was no longer an active athlete and would have to find another coach to corroborate her claim.

Ms. Schmidt’s case demonstrates two things, that coaches in all sports may sexually abuse children of any age. That Ms. Schmidt told authorities about the sexual assaults by her coach in the late 1980’s and 2005 and her claims were not investigated. The circumstances are similar than that of the Penn State University scandal that gained momentum when an investigation recently began and detailed that former coach, Jerry Sandusky, of Penn State University, may have sexually assaulted up to 10 boys under the age of 18.

The sexual assault(s) situation is not new to those of us who work in the child sexual abuse investigation field. Over a 29 year period I have investigated sexual assault allegations which identified physicians, judges, attorneys, engineers, football players and so forth who committed sexual crimes against children. Child sexual abuse has no boundaries. The person sitting next to you as you read this story may have sexually assaulted over 500 children in their lifetime. This fact isn’t something I made up. Statistics have shown that a child molester generally sexually abuses anywhere between 50 to 500 children. These statistics are to provide you with just one of the facts about how serious child sexual abuse is.

According to according Celia Brackenridge, Director of the Centre for Youth Sport and Athlete Welfare at Brunel University in London and a leader in sports abuse research stated the following:
·         Reliable statistics tell us that coaches carry with them a great deal of power over athletes as they try to achieve their goals.  
·         Coaches and athletes are often in close proximity.
·         Normal boundaries that exist with non-family members can erode with the intimate coach relationship, sometimes evolving into a surrogate parent relationship.
·         A lack of oversight during travel competitions (According to Brackenridge, abuse is more than twice as likely to happen on team trips). (momsTeam.com, May 28, 2010)

Society needs to recognize that child sexual abuse is the number one mental health issue in the world. In all cultures there is sexual abuse occurring; no one is exempt from it. The preventive guidelines about being sexually abused by an authority figure haven’t changed much over the past 40 years. Experts in the profession of advocating and preventing children being sexually assaulted by an authority figure have outlined that children need consistent education about boundaries in relationships and learning what parts of their bodies that others are allowed to touch. Further, experts advocate that parents take the necessary time and monitor any and all contacts and behavior by any and all coaches who have the responsibility of coaching their athlete child.

The inconsistency in identifying just how child sexual abuse affects children; how major of a problem it is; the characteristics of who the sexual offenders and victims are; and the complex manner in which they disclose that they have been sexually abuse. The non-abusing authority figure in their life needs to know these things. It can’t be left for others to take care of or understand.

Too often parents do not listen to the subtleties and nuances that their athlete child provides when playing a sport under specific coaches. Overnight trips and one on one coaching opportunities needs to be monitored by the parent. It only takes a minute to sexually abuse a child. However, the majority of pedophiles “groom” their intended targeted victims, which generally is over a period of time.

If the athlete child is being sexually assaulted their parent’s needs to look for clues which may come to them in a form of mental, behavior, school, and physical changes. These drastic changes need to be immediately explored to ascertain the reasons for the foundation of these changes. Parents can no longer drop off their athlete child at the football field and leave them alone with individuals they know nothing about. Even though a coach has been working in their specific sport for years, this does not eliminate him/her from being a sexual offender.

The need to protect children, especially athlete children needs the attention it has been receiving this past week. Parents need to begin tracking their athlete children i.e. who is coaching their child, who is this coach or parent who is paying a lot of attention to their child; and has the child demonstrated any significant changes that seem odd or new.

It is understandable that parents need to work and athletics occur generally after school, which may be in the middle of their work hours. Therefore, other alternative supervision of their child needs to be addressed. Taking the time to bring parents together with other parents, volunteers, and coaches and talk about rules, strategies, protocols and policies needs to be the future of youth sports and activities. No longer can we trust the “unknown” it is destroying millions of children’s lives worldwide.

Tomorrow, I will continue to examine how the investigation is progressing at Penn State University. The lessons our society will learn from another episode like that of the Catholic Church just a few years ago, should remind all of us that child sexual abuse is simply a part of cultures all over the world. It is time that acts of child sexual abuse come to an end. Being realistic it will take years if not decades or centuries to identify how sexual offenders are put together and why specific children are sexual assaulted by them. 
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