SAFE4ATHLETES - PROGRAM OVERVIEW
HOW YOUR CLUB CAN CONDUCT AN OPEN AMATEUR SPORTS PROGRAM THAT IS SAFE FOR ATHLETES
Athlete sexual abuse and other forms of misconduct by coaches or others is a serious problem that has not been effectively confronted by local and national open amateur sports organizations. The damage to athletes who have been abused goes well beyond their inability to reach their potential as athletes. The impact is life changing. Being victimized by a trusted adult, especially in the case of sexual abuse, has a devastating and long-lasting impact ranging from lowered self-esteem, difficulty trusting others, anxiety, stress, fear, and depression to self-destructive tendencies, sexual maladjustment and substance abuse. It is commonplace for abused athletes to accept blame for the misconduct, thinking the abuse is their fault and not recognizing that it is the adult who is wrong. Some abused athletes may even involuntarily and subconsciously bond with their abuser. Clubs with policies, procedures and educational programs designed to prevent such harm are more likely to be trusted and respected by parents and less likely to be sued by victims.
It is very important for every club to emphasize to coaches, athletes, employees, volunteers and parents that athlete safety and welfare policies do not imply distrust and are not intended to portray coaches or others as “villains.” The appropriate analogy is to liken these policies to what we all have to endure when taking an airline trip and tolerating airport security measures. We suffer these restrictions on our personal freedoms because we know that one terrorist can cause terrible harm. Similarly, athlete safety and welfare policies restrict the actions and behaviors of coaches and others in order to maximize the possibility that we will be able to protect program participants from the harm caused by one person with malicious intent.
HOW? A Safe4Athletes club commits to doing four things:
1. ADOPT POLICIES
that (a) require criminal background checks for coaches, volunteers and others before they are permitted to work directly with children and (b) clearly define prohibited conduct in a detailed way, from poor instruction or supervision practices and bullying behaviors, to more serious allegations of professional misconduct such as sexual harassment, or physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Coaches, employees and volunteers sign a code of conduct agreement acknowledging having read and understanding their obligation to adhere to the policy.
2. EDUCATE CLUB COACHES, ATHLETES AND VOLUNTEERS
about these inappropriate behaviors and the existence of a club conduct policy that must be followed.
3. APPOINT two parents or other volunteers as ATHLETE WELFARE ADVOCATES (AWA) TO ASSIST CLUB ATHLETES.
Athletes are often afraid of confronting more powerful coaches or even their own parents when faced with a distressing situation. The AWA distributes educational materials and invites athletes to call or email to schedule a confidential conversation if they need help handling any situation that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
4. ESTABLISH AND IMPLEMENT THE FOLLOWING APPROPRIATE PROCEDURES
that will restore a safe environment if misconduct occurs:
- availability of an Athlete Welfare Advocate to meet in a confidential and supportive environment to assist the athlete (and/or parents) in identifying and addressing the concern
- immediately correct any hostile environment or situation that threatens the safety and well-being of participants
- if appropriate in the case of minor transgressions, the Athlete Welfare Advocate works with the club president to resolve the situation to the satisfaction of the affected athlete (and his/her parents) or initiate a formal complaint
- in more serious situations, temporarily suspend the coach or other individual accused of misconduct for the duration of the complaint process that includes the following elements:
- the AWA represents or accompanies the athlete who is never required to confront her/his alleged abuser
- the accused is given notice of all charges
- the club appoints an impartial Fact Finder to interview all parties
- the accused receives a full hearing before and the opportunity to submit a detailed written statement to the Fact Finder
- the Fact Finder presents the facts and recommendations, including the statements of the accused, the complainant, and all witnesses to an Ethics Panel that determines if club policy was violated and, if necessary, imposes appropriate sanctions
- the Fact Finder presents the facts and recommendations, including the statements of the accused, the complainant, and all witnesses to an Ethics Panel that determines if club policy was violated and, if necessary, imposes appropriate sanctions.
Safe4Athletes has sample policies, procedures and educational materials that clubs can use to implement a Safe4Athletes program. Downloads are free from Safe4Athletes.org.
USE OF SAFE4ATHLETES LOGO AND SAFE ENVIRONMENT STATEMENT
Clubs that adopt these policies and procedures may use the Safe4Athletes logo and the following statement on their web site and in printed materials: