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‘Summit’ to tackle prevention of child abuse in sports

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal at Penn State has galvanized leaders of youth sports organizations to come together to learn how to ensure such abuse doesn't happen in their ranks.

"There were some hard lessons learned as a result of the Sandusky case," John Ryan, chief executive of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said in a media briefing Tuesday.

The national center is a co-sponsor of a March 19-20 'summit' to address sexual abuse of children in sports. The event, to be held at the center's offices in Alexandria, will involve child-abuse experts, coaches, youth-service workers and leaders of more than 50 youth-serving organizations, including Special Olympics, USA Swimming, US Soccer, the YMCA and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America.

The event will be live-streamed for the general public, and questions can be submitted through Facebook and Twitter.

The Sandusky case showed that parents must be more vigilant and ask questions of sports organizations about how they are working to ensure that their children are safe from pedophiles, experts said.

"The days of just dropping off a kid at practice on some team and coming back three hours later — I think those days are gone," said Joe Ehrmann, former National Football League defensive lineman and survivor of child sex abuse.

Mr. Ehrmann warned about overnight camps and trips and unsupervised training sessions that might put a child alone with a pedophile.

"We know that pedophiles look for opportunities where there is no accountability," said Steve Salem, president of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, another co-sponsor of the child-abuse summit, "Safe to Compete: Protecting Child Athletes From Sexual Abuse."

"They are seeking that out, and when those opportunities are there, they go to them like a beeline," Mr. Salem said. "That's what we are trying to prevent."

The conference will review ways to recruit and screen personnel, improve reporting procedures, and recognize signs and symptoms of abuse in children as well as grooming behaviors used by pedophiles.

A summit such as this "could be a pivotal moment in the history of youth sports," Mr. Ehrmann said. It could "break the conspiracy of silence and make sure we talk about this."

Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State University, was convicted of 45 counts of child abuse in June. He is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence. The youth charity he founded — and where he trolled for young male victims — is transferring its assets to another charity and closing.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is the nation's clearinghouse on issues related to kidnapping, family abduction, and abuse of children and teens. Since 1998, its CyberTipline has handled more than 1.7 million reports of child-sexual exploitation, officials said.

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