Jan 3, 2023
With the Tokyo Olympics in full swing, many fans are closely following the storied and elite U.S. Gymnastics program which won the gold medal in 2016. On Friday, multiple media outlets reported that Child USA and The Army of Survivors – two non-profit organizations working to end child sexual abuse and support survivors – had officially announced the launch of the Child Athlete Bill of Rights advocacy campaign.
Following countless sexual abuse scandals involving young athletes – including Larry Nassar at Michigan State, Jerry Sandusky at Penn State, Richard Strauss at Ohio State, and most recently Robert Anderson from the University of Michigan – the two organizations are calling on all those involved in youth athletics to make a commitment to preventing future abuse by adopting four guiding principles within the Child Athlete Bill of Rights.
The four main principles of the Child Athlete Bill of Rights include (under the acronym SAFE):
As the IndyStar reported, if implemented, the proposal would establish the first-ever national set of regulations governing youth sports that could be enforced through an organization’s insurance coverage.
The Army of Survivors was created by a group of more than 40 victims who were abused by Larry Nassar. The non-profit bills itself as the only national organization advocating for and supporting child athlete survivors. The organization’s website reports that with participation levels as they are today, at least 5.91 million survivors of sexual assault can be confirmed in the United States alone. The non-profit also cites a recent study which indicates that 13% of student athletes are victims of sexual assault through their participation in sports.
“We do a very poor job in this country of teaching children what is a good touch, what is a bad touch, how to say no, how to say something doesn’t feel right. I hope that this helps to teach kids that they do have the right to do that and to feel safe,” Jillian Ruck, executive director of Child USA, told the Huffington Post.
“A lot of times we send our kids to sports and youth organizations and we just assume that they’re in good hands and that kids are being given these rights,” Ruck told Huffpo. “But there are no policies that are standardized that do provide kids these rights. It’s time for us to have more oversight in sports to protect our children.”
Of the aforementioned sexual abuse scandals occurring at major universities, the following statistics are staggering:
As the Huffington Post reported, USA Gymnastics isn’t the only national program to have been hit with a sexual abuse scandal. Former USA Swimming coach Andy King sexually abused up to a dozen minors over the course of three decades and is now serving 40 years in prison.
Danielle Moore is the board secretary of The Army of Survivors (and also happens to be a survivor of Nassar’s abuse). She told HuffPo that an essential element of curbing sexual assault against child athletes is encouraging them to speak up.
“Most people from a young age are taught that they have to listen to adults. Especially when a young person is part of a team, it’s the coach’s word 100%,” she said. “This campaign gives them that power to actually speak up. It normalizes the fact that they can use their voice.”
As the IndyStar reported, Child USA CEO, Marci Hamilton, has indicated that what sets this proposal apart from other well-intended recommendations is the concept of tying compliance to insurance coverage.
“I think that could make the difference,” she told the IndyStar.
Under the Child Athlete Bill of Rights, athletic organizations would be required to carry insurance. And those that can prove they comply with the requirements (perhaps, as the IndyStar suggested, through a yearly audit) could receive a discount on insurance coverage. Those that fail to undergo an audit may be denied coverage. The idea, according to the IndyStar report, is that “better child protection policies also benefit insurers through fewer costly claims, and the groups are currently working with one insurance company on a pilot project.”
“Our focus is on protecting children through parental involvement,” Hamilton said to the IndyStar, “but also by creating mechanisms that are enforceable – that are not just a piece of paper, but rather that operate to create a safer environment for real.”
Over 50 million young athletes participate in some form of organized youth sports throughout the U.S. – from Pop Warner football to little league baseball. Establishing a Child Athlete Bill of Rights would be a step towards tangible progress and ensuring that sexual predators are held accountable.
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