It will never happen to my kid … until it does.
Child abuse occurs at every socio-economic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all regions and at all levels of education. Studies indicate that 40 to 50 per cent of athletes have experienced anything from mild harassment to severe abuse, according to Childhelp.
What if my child doesn’t tell me that they are being abused? Are there indicators I should be looking out for in my kid’s behaviour?
The Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe for Athletes prevention education program notes indicators of possible abuse in sports include, but are not limited to, missing practices, illness, loss of interest, withdrawal, and a child performing significantly below his or her abilities.
“Look for signs of disengagement in young people,” Daphne Young, chief communications officer at Childhelp, said. “They used to be so excited about their sport and couldn’t wait to go to practice and now they’re pulling back or want to quit.
“Watch for slippage in grades, change in physicality, whether they’re covering up more, eating more, or starving themselves. There could be a withdrawal or withholding of engagement or you may see the flip side and see a child exuberantly happy, super engaged, super thrilled and very secretive because there’s a new love in their life, not understanding that this could be an older person taking advantage.
“Watch for dramatic shifts in behaviour and try to ensure that you ask questions without being accusatory.”
Young says Speak Up Be Safe for Athletes was started because there was a specific need for it.
“This is a specialized audience and it needs its own niche prevention because we know that predators are going to crystalize around places where they have access to children and coaches, I believe, are second only to educators in gaining that close relationship and occasionally abusing it,” Young said.
In October, Childhelp will be launching a specialty version of their hotline, called the Courage First Athletes Help Line, in partnership with the Foundation for Global Sports Development, to help protect children in sports.
Counsellors working the hotline will be specially trained to deal with issues in youth athletics. In the meantime, the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline can be contacted in the United States or Canada by telephone, texting or online chat. The number is 1-800-4-A-CHILD ) 1-800-422-4453. Further information, and online chat, is available at childhelphotline.org.
It’s not always easy to spot sexual abuse because perpetrators often take steps to hide their actions, says Erinn Robinson, director of media relations, Rape, Abuse & Incest Network (RAINN).
The most important thing to keep in mind when looking for signs of child sexual abuse is to keep an eye on sudden changes in your child’s behaviour, says Robinson.
“Trust your gut and don’t ignore your feelings if something seems off. If a child tells you that someone makes them uncomfortable, even if they can’t tell you anything specific, listen.”
RAINN lists the following as warning signs to watch for:
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Signs of trauma to the genital area, such as unexplained bleeding, bruising, or blood on the sheets, underwear, or other clothing
- Excessive talk about or knowledge of sexual topics
- Keeping secrets or not talking as much as usual
- Not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior
- Regressive behaviors or resuming behaviors they had grown out of, such as thumb sucking or bedwetting
- Overly compliant behavior
- Sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age
- Spending an unusual amount of time alone
- Trying to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe
- Change in eating habits
- Change in mood or personality, such as increased aggression
- Decrease in confidence or self-image
- Excessive worry or fearfulness
- Increase in unexplained health problems such as stomach aches and headaches
- Loss or decrease in interest in school, activities, and friends
- Nightmares or fear of being alone at night
- Self-harming behaviors
Canada’s Kids Help Phone offers tips on what to do if a young person comes to you to discuss an abusive situation.
These tips include listening without judgment and keeping the line of communication open by letting the young person know they can talk to you about anything and staying calm. If a young person discloses a potentially harmful situation to you, get help for them right away. If they are in immediate danger, call 911 or the emergency services in your area. You may also have a duty to report child abuse or neglect to your local child protection services.
Kids Help Phone is a resource that can connect young people with crisis responders. To contact Kids Help Phone, call 1-800-668-6868, visit www.kidshelpphone.ca, text CONNECT to 686868 or connect through Facebook Messenger at KidsHelpPhone.ca/Messenger.
RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673) connects callers in the United States with trained staff members from sexual assault service providers in their area and online.rainn.org connects to one-on-one chats with trained RAINN support specialists 24/7.