Local groups work hard to prevent sexual abuse of athletes

Experts said a growing number of cases come from coaches abusing young athletes

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau more than 9 percent of children have been sexually assaulted. Experts said a growing number of cases come from coaches abusing young athletes. According to a National Institute of Justice report the majority of children who are sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well, that includes athletic coaches.

The La Crosse Police department said they haven’t seen any sexual abuse cases involving coaches and local organizations are doing what they can to keep it that way.

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater La Crosse serves over 1,800 children who participate in more than a dozen different sports.

“You not only develop their skills sets but you also develop them as people,” said Mike Desmond, the executive director of the Boys and Girls club of Greater La Crosse.

Young athletes between kindergarten to sixth grade are trained by a total of 135 coaches.

“We’ve got college, parents of kids, and ex-coaches,” Desmond said.

With so many people to keep track of, Desmond said any potential coaches go through a strict screening process.

“Our coaches have to fill out an application just like anybody else. They go through a background check, we interview and make decisions and who would fit at what level the best,” Desmond said.

Once a coach is hired at the Boys and Girls Club they go through training that discusses sexual abuse.

“There is also a strong educational piece, so the coaches know what our philosophy is and what our objective is at the end of the day,” Desmond said.

In addition to organizations like the Boys and Girls Club experts said it is important for parents to talk to their children.

“It’s important that parents are open to discussing and exploring these things, without shying away and pretending that these things could never happen,” Ryan McKelley, an associate professor at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, said.

They stress that a very small number of coaches are responsible for the majority of sexual abuse.

“It’s not like this is an epidemic that coaches all over the places are doing it. It tends to be coaches in isolated pockets that are in supportive environments that tend to victimize many people,” McKelley said.

The Boys and Girls Club is striving to improve its already solid record when it comes to keeping kids safe. It recently had an outside task force from the Parenting Place in La Crosse access how they were doing.

“There was very little to fix, There were a few things that we needed to tweak but really there weren’t any huge gaps in how we needed to supervise kids,” Desmond said.

In addition to abuse in child athletes. Experts said a growing number of sexual abuse is happening within college sports. They said that’s because it becomes a lot trickier to regulate, since most athletes are at the age of consent. However they say it’s still abuse and their needs to be clearer guidelines on campuses.