Safe Sport Act Overview, Implications for YMCAs, & Best Practices
Signed into law in February 2018, new federal legislation has expanded the requirements around sexual abuse reporting and prevention policies for organizations that arrange or sponsor youth sports competitions. The Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017, commonly referred to as The Safe Sport Act, was created in response to recent revelations of ongoing abuse within USA Gymnastics. The new requirements affect organizations that arrange interstate or international amateur athletic competitions for minors, as well as the adults working with minor amateur athletes on behalf of those organizations.
YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) recommends all YMCAs that offer youth sporting activities take steps to ensure their policies and procedures for abuse prevention and reporting align with the law. If you have specific questions about if and how the legislation applies to your YMCA, please consult legal counsel to assist with interpreting the law and its implications for your YMCA.
The major requirements under the law include that:
- All adults authorized by the organization to interact with athletes—including volunteers—are deemed mandated reporters. All mandated reporters must report any incidents or suspected incidents of child abuse as soon as possible (in no event later than 24 hours) to the appropriate authorities. (Child abuse is defined as physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, or negligent treatment.) For organizations that are sanctioned by or under the jurisdiction of National Governing Bodies, such as USA Gymnastics or USA Swimming, mandated reporters also must report to the US Center for Safe Sport. Penalties, in the form of a fine or imprisonment, are dependent on the state law and can be significant.
- Organizations must offer and provide consistent training regarding prevention and reporting of sexual abuse to adults who are in contact with athletes (including volunteers). Subject to parental consent, the training must also be made available to minor members.
- Organizations must establish procedures to prevent abuse. Specifically, they must establish reasonable procedures to limit one-on-one interactions between an athlete who is a minor and an adult without being in an observable and interruptible distance from another adult.
- Organizations must protect those making reports from retaliation.
USA recommends that YMCAs develop policies that instruct anyone who is not a mandated reporter but is interacting with athletes to report any suspicions or incidents of abuse to a supervisor. We also recommend that volunteers and staff who are under the age of 18 be well-versed in your prevention and reporting policies and that they go through the appropriate prevention training.
Best Practice Guidelines
The following Best Practice Guidelines are strongly recommended for all USA Swimming members.
- Parents should be encouraged to appropriately support their children’s swimming experience.
- All swimming practices should be open to observation by parents.
- Coaches should not initiate contact with or accept supervisory responsibility for athletes outside club programs and activities.
- When only one athlete and one coach travel to a competition, at the competition the coach and athlete should attempt to establish a “buddy” club to associate with during the competition and when away from the venue.
- Relationships of a peer-to-peer nature with any athletes should be avoided. For example, coaches should avoid sharing their own personal problems with athletes.
- Coaches and other non-athlete adult members should avoid horseplay and roughhousing with athletes.
- When a coach touches an athlete as part of instruction, the coach should do so in direct view of others and inform the athlete of what he/she is doing prior to the initial contact. Touching athletes should be minimized outside the boundaries of what is considered normal instruction.
- Appropriate interaction would include high fives, fist bumps, side-to-side hugs and handshakes.
- Coaches should avoid having athletes as their favorites. They should also avoid creating a situation that could be perceived as them having favorites.
- Gift-giving, providing special favors or showing favoritism to individual athletes is strongly discouraged.