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Insights Insights
| 1 minute read

A Missed Child Protection Opportunity

A recent court opinion offers a fascinating case study in how easy it is to miss opportunities to stop a sexual predator. In December the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of former gymnastics coach Kathie Klage for lying to police about her knowledge of Larry Nassar’s abuse of gymnasts. In the 2018 conversation with investigators, she denied any memory of 1997 disclosures of abuse by two gymnasts. 

I don’t have any opinions about the jury’s belief that Ms. Klage did remember those disclosures for 23 years or the court’s finding that any misrepresentation was not material. What struck me was the classic pattern that the court opinion describes, a pattern that I have seen play out more times than I can count. The victim, in this case a teenager, came to an adult with a story of abuse. The adult had trouble believing the allegations against a respected colleague and pushed back. The victim, discouraged and lacking self-confidence, retreated and kept quiet about further abuse.

It’s easy to cast the adult as the villian in that morality play, but that tendency is not entirely fair. Most adults have trouble wrapping their heads around allegations of sexual abuse against someone they know and respect. It’s simple human nature to reach for a simple and easy explanation that will make the problem go away quietly. I use the analogy of a car wreck — a trained emergency responder who happens upon a terrible accident will know what to do. The rest of us will panic or freeze.

That dynamic is the reason that training is such an important part of child protection policIes. It also is equally important to have an experienced person available to help guide a response. Every youth organization needs to have a person designated to field reports from clients and staff, along with an experienced person either on staff or available as a consultant. Those of us who have seen how children disclose abuse — or more often, give hints and half-disclosures — can help you recognize what to respond to and when and how. Otherwise, your organization could become another cautionary tale of missed opportunities to protect the children in your care.

I mean, I was 16. I didn’t want to cause problems. I wasn’t trying to get anybody in trouble, so I just felt defeated. I felt like I was trying to do the right thing, but then I also felt like I must have a dirty mind. I must be thinking of this wrong. What’s wrong with me?


youth services law, child protection, insights, ausburn_deborah