Protecting Your K-12 PE Program Participants from Sexual Misconduct
Sexual misconduct is an unfortunate commonality in the world of sports, especially when it comes to high school sports teams and K-12 physical education programs. In fact, the majority of sexual misconduct reported among young athletes occurs from a parent, teacher or coach. Around 2% to 8% of minor and young adult athletes suffer from sexual assault within sports contexts, with around 98% of the abusers being coaches or instructors. Specifically in K-12, around 4.5 million students are victims of sexual misconduct by a school employee.
If you run a K-12 PE program, it is of the utmost importance that you put safety measures in place to protect your PE participants.
Creating a culture of caring and respect is critical throughout schools, but especially in PE programs where participants will compete with each other in some cases and worth together in others. Not only should participants feel comfortable with each other, but all coaches and teachers should set the example of respect. This means putting coaches, teachers and instructors through approved sensitivity training and encouraging only interactions bred from respect both among coaches and teachers as well as with students.
Due Diligence When Hiring
When hiring coaches or instructors for your K-12 PE program, extensive background checks should always be performed along with referrals. Speak with people who have worked with the individual before and keep an eye out for anything that could possibly cause an issue. Obviously, it is not always possible to predict what will happen, but performing background checks and being thorough with the hiring process can help curate your list of coaches and instructors.
PE participants should be encouraged and feel comfortable enough to seek help and guidance when they need it. An open door policy means that kids and teens are welcome to share their concerns without backlash or repercussions. This allows them to feel a sense of safety. Victims of sexual assault typically have trouble expressing their experiences even with family members and friends. Let them know that you are there for them and will consider any and all concerns they have.
Studies show that around 30% of students have observed sexual harassment and half of students are at the receiving end of sexual harassment, yet only about 9% of students report harassment to school staff. This is due to a variety of reasons such as embarrassment and fear of repercussions. Let your PE students know that they are safe divulging to you and your staff.
It is important to always keep documents recorded of complaints or possible issues concerning staff members, including coaches. Keeping up a record can help you see if any past complaints have been filed against a coach. It can also help you warn other schools who consider hiring these coaches.
Adopt a Zero Tolerance Policy
Bad conduct should result in immediate repercussions. A lack of punishment concerning sexual harassment or assault can break the trust between students and staff as well as allow more harm in the future. It also opens the possibility of further harassment, as harassers see that they will not be punished.
Adopt a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment. If coaches make sexual comments or otherwise act inappropriately, specific actions should be taken to punish the perpetrators and prevent further incidents.
Provide Sexual Harassment Training
There are several training programs offered to schools and K-12 PE programs that can be beneficial for school employees. Not only can these training programs outline your program’s zero tolerance policy, but it can help other employees identify the signs of misconduct.
Have a Clearly Outline Complaints Process
One of the reasons that many students don’t seek help is that they don’t know where to go. Having a clear complaints process telling them who to speak to and when that person or persons is available can help clear up confusion and offer students a solution to who they need to speak with. Generally, the one they need to speak to is ideally someone every student in the school can trust such as a nurse or counselor.
Despite all of the precautions you can take, incidents can unfortunately still occur which is why insurance is crucial. Sports insurance policies often offer sexual misconduct coverage for your PE program that can provide compensation to injured parties and protect your program in case of a related lawsuit.
Speak with an insurance agent for the right policy and look for the best training programs to protect everyone involved in your K-12 PE program.