The Olympic movement is most often associated with triumphs and gold medals, the gathering of nations and athletes who strive for faster, higher and stronger.
Sometimes, however, the effort exerted is to help others far from the five-ring spotlight.
This month, which is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the U.S. Olympic Committee is launching a year-long national campaign to help prevent child abuse.
Under the umbrella of the USOC’s SafeSport program, the “Make the Commitment: Stop Abuse in Sport” campaign aims to help decrease numbers that are staggering and have incalculable impacts: one in every four girls in the United States is sexually abused before the age of 18. For boys, that statistic is one in every six boys.
Malia Arrington, the USOC’s director of ethics and safe sport, who is leading the new venture, believes the campaign — which will provide information, resources and tools to youth sports programs across the nation to help combat child abuse — has the potential to reach a large audience and make a difference. With an estimated 44 million girls and boys playing sports in the United States, Arrington said, the campaign’s reach can be broad.
“We’ve got this opportunity to help (people) recognize those behaviors and intervene and prevent it,” she said.
Arrington’s position was announced in April 2011 following the recommendations of the USOC’s Working Group for Safe Training Environments, led by four-time cross-country skiing U.S. Olympian and USOC board member Nina Kemppel. Arrington is an attorney but also has a passion for sports, having played soccer and coached the sport at the youth level.
“The local clubs and coaches and volunteers are really the ones who have an amazing opportunity to make a real difference in this phase,” Arrington added. “We obviously operate at the national level and the national governing bodies operate at the national level, so it’s really critical to get prevention tools … to local clubs.”
The Make the Commitment campaign includes:
- The distribution of free newsletters, information resources and training webinars each month to organizations that commit to taking part in the program
- Setting up a website — www.teamusa.org/stopabuse — as a hub for clubs, coaches, athletes and parents
- The input of experts in the field of child-abuse prevention that will help guide the program, which will conclude next April in a SafeSport Summit (at a city to be determined) that will provide additional training, seminars and workshops on the topics related to understanding, preventing and reporting sexual abuse.
Specific topics of discussion, resources and webinars will be announced on the website as the program unfolds.
Arrington said the SafeSport program created the perfect launching pad for the Make the Commitment effort.
“This is really just the next step in the evolution of getting the resources to the (sports) communities that they can use,” she said.
The broader SafeSport program already is committed to helping stop six behaviors across all age groups: bullying, hazing and harassment, as well as emotional, physical and sexual misconduct. Each month of the campaign, a new topic will be addressed, Arrington said.
“Each month, there will be three supporting resources and e-news letters, website resources and then a free training webinar,” she said.
All the information will be archived on the website for future reference.
In addition, Arrington said, there will be production of video pieces and the use of Facebook and Twitter.
“The whole idea is to push the information through all these channels,” she said.
Cases of child abuse have been documented on youth sports teams, and children can be vulnerable while spending hours, days and weeks with adults who are in a position of authority in close situations, on trips and in training.
But the structure of organized sports — with its leagues, administrators, coaches and parent volunteers — also can be a great conduit for teaching, Arrington said. Kids can learn through this program to be more aware of what is and isn’t appropriate and who to go to for help if needed.
Arrington and the USOC are hopeful that a large dose of information over the next 12 months — to children, coaches, volunteers and local and national organizations — can make a difference in lowering the rate of abuse.
“The public awareness campaign is focused specifically on preventing child abuse, and it’s really sort of an effort to increase awareness among the community, combined with providing tools at the grassroots level,” she said.