An ex-Boy Scout camp director and YMCA water safety instructor accused of filming and distributing child pornography entered a guilty plea on three of the seven counts he is facing. Similar accusations have been made against dozens of coaches with USA Swimming as well. In fact, it seems as if horrifying stories like this are coming from every possible direction: sports teams, churches, high schools, and even daycare centers.
While the pain and torment experienced by all of the victims is unique, we've identified three similarities in all of these stories.
1. Children Trapped in One-on-One Situations
Every youth-focused, community-based organization should have a policy strictly prohibiting unsupervised, one-on-one contact between an adult and a minor. Predators rarely exploit children when others are present. Preventing one-on-one interactions would have gone a long way in protecting all of the victims in the stories we linked to earlier.
Parents and co-workers need to ask questions. Anytime a coach, counselor, camp director, or the like, appears to be spending any amount of one-on-one time with a child, it is time to start asking questions. The adult, regardless of their title or authority, should be confronted immediately.
2. The Predator Exploits a Position of Power
Sexual predators, and particularly those that prey on children, often exploit a position of trust, familiarity, or power. The exploitation is most directly aimed at children, but sexual predators also use their position of trust and power to manipulate parents and co-workers.
Even an organization that places an emphasis on ensuring the "one-on-one rule" may be inclined to turn a blind eye when that one adult is someone in a position of power. Title, tenure, financial standing, gender... none of these things warrant entrusting a minor in the individual care of an adult. Employees and parents throughout the organization should be encouraged to speak up about suspected abuse or rules violations (ie. the one-on-one rule), no matter who the adult is.
3. Criminal Background Checks Show Up Clean
Each of the accused or convicted predators in the stories mentioned earlier had background checks that presented no red flags. This trend, however, is not an indictment on the power, necessity, or validity of background checks. To the contrary, criminal and sexual predator background checks are extremely important and should be conducted on any adult employee and volunteer that works with children. The fact that these predators have clean backgrounds is proof that no one, regardless of their age, gender, experience, or family situation, should be trusted alone with a child.