Protecting Student-Athletes from Sexual Predators

By Sempai Elena Waldman (Guest Post)

It feels great to be called “coach,” “blue,” “doc,” or any of the other titles we use for beloved adults in a young athlete’s life. In addition to helping them learn, grow, and compete in their respective sports, these people contribute to the successful future of each youth – their happiness, self-esteem, progress, and resilience.

Unless they don’t.

dr in msu assault
Larry Nassar, former acclaimed USA Gymnastics team doctor, pleaded guilty Wednesday to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Sexual predators go where the targets are, and unfortunately, youth sports is one of those places. For most of us, we would go to great lengths to protect the youth in our care.  As the #metoo campaign heats up, and the MSU/USA Gymnastics abuse trial ends, we adults of good conscience can use these tragedies to increase our vigilance to identify potential abuse, protect the victim, and see it through to an appropriate resolution.

It’s critically important to remind ourselves that there is NO SUCH THING AS CONSENT between an adult and a minor, or between a person in position of power, (including ALL squad staff,) and a subordinate.  Remember, too, that especially with adolescents, “special” attention from an authority figure may be interpreted as love, but it is not – it’s abuse.

Sexual abuse covers a broad range of actions: 

Believe the victim, validate the victim, and never, never blame the victim. No matter the sport, no matter the size, gender, personality, or allegation of the victim, they MUST be believed. Do not be swayed by the name or reputation of the alleged perpetrator. Treat all disclosures and warnings as valid, and worth your time and attention.

–        What does a disclosure look like?  Because “silencing” is the foundation of most perpetrators system of abuse, it’s rare that you will get an actual report from an athlete, either about themselves or on behalf of another. You may observe an athlete who refuses, or tries to refuse, to be with an adult, or who recoils from a specific adult’s touch. 

–        Look for warning signs, calls them “opportunities for prevention,” and does an adult physically isolate or target an athlete while making inappropriate references to their bodies or body parts? Or touch them inappropriately?

–        What to do? Take the athlete to a safe, (but not isolated,) location. Time is often a challenge, but remember what’s at stake. Assure them that you are there to help, not to judge, and that you believe them. Ask what would make them feel safe. Ask open-ended questions, and listen actively. Make sure the athlete gets necessary medical and mental help assistance. Take the next step and be persistent. Do not let the matter drop until it is resolved.

–        Ask for help.  There are many resources, (some below), for prevention, intervention, and remediation.

–        As caring adults, it’s our responsibility to end abuse. Speak out, stand up, fight back.


About Writer:

Elena Waldman, Founder and Executive Director of Artemis – Self Defense, Empowerment and Anti-Violence (, will go anywhere, anytime, to teach anyone self-defense. And all for free.

Artemis is structured on the principles that violence is rooted in systems of oppression – racism, misogyny, classism, xenophobia, queer- and trans-hatred, hetero and binary normative beliefs, ageism, etc., and that violence is always the responsibility of the perpetrator. 

Using a broad spectrum of teaching methods adaptive for all communities – from hand-to-hand combat to art and journaling – we teach de-escalation, up-stander training, civil disobedience, workplace violence, allyship (a person or group that provides assistance and support), and more. 

Artemis receives invitations from all directions: girl scouts, sex worker collectives, senior centers, programs for survivors of violence and trauma, and the community at large.


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