Experts: Child Sexual Abuse is Prevalent in Youth Sports

(Patch) It’s mind-numbing to hear that more than 65 percent of predators who have been identified as child sexual abusers were in positions of trust, such as coaches or clergy. It’s horrifying to hear football great Joe Ehrmann make that data real with his tale.

Hundreds of leaders representing youth organizations, law enforcement groups and child protection advocates are gathering this week at Safe to Compete: Protecting Child Athletes from Sexual Abuse, a summit hosted by the Alexandria-based National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.

The group discussed the issue on the heels of the Jerry Sandusky case. The former Penn State assistant coach was convicted of sexually molesting young boys.

“The only thing unique about the Sandusky case was where it happened” not that it happened, said John Ryan, CEO of the NCMEC.

He called youth serving organizations a “popular hunting ground” for sexual abusers, saying sports organizations are particularly popular. But he added that if a child’s parents ask enough questions, predators move on to look for a next victim.

The conference attendees plan to offer a report on best practices that will be shared with youth organizations across the country, Ryan said.

Melodee Hanes, acting administrator of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice, called the sobering topic “the elephant in the room. … If we don’t talk about it, it dishonors the victims of Jerry Sandusky,” she said.

She said the issue is not just a public safety issue, but also a public health issue. Abuse victims have a higher rate of mental health problems, heart disease and diabetes, and Hanes noted that female victims often suffer from obesity later in life.

Former Indianapolis Colts star Ehrmann said he came from a home riddled with domestic violence and a dad who gave him “the wrong concepts.” Ehrmann, who is now the founder of Coach for America, said he was brutally beaten and raped by two men at a church camp when he was 12 years old, adding that 47 years passed before he found the courage to say anything about it.

“I was plugged into shame,” he said.

He told the audience that a speech given by Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel resonated with him. Ehrmann summarized the speech, citing Wiesel saying the single hope prisoners in the Nazi camps had was that when the world found out about the atrocities, “the world would come rushing to their deliverance.”

The greatest pain Wiesel said he had—greater than being a prisoner—was when he reentered the world and found out that the world knew and did nothing.

“You are the signs of hope,” he told the audience. “ … The enemies of hope are always silence.”