Ethics Data Online - Articles

"Parents must pay attention to clues"
Christine Willmsen and Maureen O'Hagan, Seattle Times staff reporters
Sunday, December 17, 2003

Devon Crosby-Helms has simple advice for parents of athletes: Trust no one.

"You have to act like every coach is a potential predator," said Crosby-Helms, who was abused by basketball coach Tony Giles.

Many parents mistakenly trust that Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) coaches have undergone criminal checks. The AAU does not do them, but parents or athletic associations can pay $10 to have the Washington State Patrol run a coach's name through its felony-conviction database.

But these checks may give parents a false sense of security because the State Patrol search will not pick up misdemeanor convictions and records such as restraining orders.

For coaches who are also teachers, parents can file public-records requests with schools or the OSPI to find out about sexual-misconduct complaints that don't rise to the level of crimes but may be serious nonetheless. It may take weeks to get records.

(For state discipline files, send a request letter with the coach's name to: The OSPI; Old Capitol Building; PO Box 47200; Olympia, WA 98504-7200.)

Lucy Berliner, a social worker with the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress, said that parents should watch out for coaches who seem to show their daughter extra attention. While it might look like the coach is singling out your talented daughter to help her, it may be a sign that he's grooming her.

"Don't let somebody have a private personal relationship with your child when they're not in the family," she said.

And pay attention to clues, said Cori Logan, who was abused by her taekwondo coach, Jonathan Novy. He got athletes so accustomed to the way he touched them that they became desensitized. "He had a way of flirting with people and he did it right in front of everyone," she said.

Berliner said charm is a predator's best tool because it makes parents less likely to suspect him and victims less likely to be believed.

If parents have suspicions, they must take a stand — no matter how difficult it may be to question the beloved coach, Crosby-Helms said.

"Kids will kick and scream and tell you they hate you," she said, "but you have to say, 'I'm just trying to protect you.' "