The recent conviction and sentencing of Larry Nassar should be a reminder to all that vigilance is necessary to protect children from predators.
More importantly, Nassar violated an established trust between a patient and physician. This and other recent episodes of abuse have also shattered the faith placed in organizations and universities entrusted to protect young athletes.
Sexual predators often methodically build relationships with victims over a period of years. The underlying premise in many abusive situations is the exertion of power over a victim. Early recognition of typical behaviors can avoid a potential crisis.
Grooming is one technique used by predators. It is a process by which an offender draws a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy. Typical targets are young, unsuspecting athletes who have low self-esteem and little parental oversight. Athletes with intellectual impairments can be particularly vulnerable.
Establishing a bond with the athlete and parents allows a sexual predator a lot of opportunity.
Private coaching or physical treatments specific for that athlete can be warning signs.
Isolation is also a crucial element in an abusive relationship. Participation on travel teams and competitions that require overnight accommodations can present occasions for abuse.
Excessive physical contact that appears inappropriate can also be a sign of abuse. If physical contact is necessary in the course of a medical examination, a parent or other adult should be present. The practitioner should welcome inquiries regarding the nature of the examination. Unfortunately, many young athletes actually report incidents of abuse but are not taken seriously.
There are many dedicated coaches, medical personnel and parents involved in youth sports. Vigilance on the part of all adults involved in youth sports is crucial to stopping what has become a disheartening trend.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.