A Virginia soccer coach arrested and charged with inappropriately touching an 11 year old player provides yet another clear example of patterns common in the grooming and pursuit of young victims by adult authority figures. (Full Story Here). The suspect was a coach at an indoor soccer facility and also had worked as a part time school coach and for a club team. He was arrested after the victim’s mother discovered lewd text messages on her son’s phone from the coach. Further, the abuse was alleged to have occurred when the coach gave the player a ride to watch a soccer game outside of the organization.
We constantly encourage organizations to implement child protection plans that include electronic communications policies, extra-organizational contact policies and transportation policies. Establishing these policies, and then creating a culture of child protection, is the primary means of thwarting would be predators. A mother may not know her son is getting text messages, but if she knows that there is not to be isolated contact outside the organization, she could be alerted to the inappropriate nature of the request to drive her son to a game that is not related to the organization. By letting parents know that there are acceptable limits of coach contact with players, we make it more likely that inappropriate contact is detected and reported.
Finally, Placek Consulting is in the forefront of advising organizations on appropriate volunteer screening techniques. While we believe criminal background checks are one part of a volunteer screening program, we believe that organizations have become too reliant on them as a means of screening potential applicants. Computerized screens have replaced common sense and face to face evaluations. Sometimes people just don’t seem right. Consider the comments of teens who played on teams with this coach. “”We all kind of thought… everyone on the team thought… he was kind of weird.” This, of course, is no reason to reject a coach. It is a reason to look further, to inquire, and to monitor. Consider what might have been found just by googling this coach. His public twitter feed should have raised sufficient red flags to question the propriety of putting him in contact with children. (Twitter Feed Here)
At one point, the coach is chatting with a 9th grade student, and asking for cell contact information:
At another point he messages another young twitter user about his sexuality:
Indeed, looking at people he followed and messaged with, there are a significant number of younger boys, often overseas in his list. He can be found asking for Facebook or phone number information from several of them.
Social media and internet searching should be a standard part of vetting a volunteer. Before the volunteer is interviewed, search them using available internet tools. Incorporate information you discover into the vetting process using open ended questions. Do they lie about something that is easily discovered by reviewing their social media? Are the defensive about the process or a question you might ask? Is there anything so disturbing that the social media search alone causes you to question the propriety of putting the volunteer in contact with youth players?
Ultimately we don’t know if better vetting could have prevented the abuse this coach is accused of committing. We don’t know if stronger child protection policies would have triggered a report from a parent or caused the mom to prohibit her son from being alone with the coach. Risk can rarely be fully eliminated. What we do know, though, is that appears that several potential means of detecting or preventing the alleged harm in this case were not employed. And now it is too late to go back