The backbone of Little League® is the adult volunteer. One million strong, it is this corps of dedicated people who coach the teams, umpire the games, work in the concession stands, serve on the local Board of Directors, and serve at the District level. These people, who live in every U.S. state and more than 80 other countries, make Little League the world’s largest and most respected youth sports organization.
We know that the greatest treasure we have is children. As adults, we must ensure that these young people are able to grow up happy, healthy and, above all, safe. Whether they are our children, or the children of others, each of us has a responsibility to protect them.
The Little League Child Protection Program seeks to educate children and volunteers in ways to prevent child abusers from becoming involved in the local league. Part of that education has been to assist local Little League volunteers in ﬁnding effective and inexpensive ways to conduct background checks. Little League regulations now say: “No local league shall permit any person to participate in any manner, whose background check reveals a conviction, guilty plea, no contest plea, or admission to any crime involving or against a minor. All local leagues must take into consideration criminal records when making the determination whether the individual is unfit to participate in any manner in the league.” (Reg. I [c] 9.)
Each year, Little League International provides each local league within the United States 125 free criminal background checks administered through JDP Background Screening. JDP can be accessed at the following site: LittleLeague.org/Background. Further information on how to utilize JDP, as well as how to conduct background checks, can be found on the Little League Child Protection Page at LittleLeague.org. Local Leagues outside of the United States must conduct a comprehensive criminal background check, including checks in the relevant country, as well as that country’s provinces/states and municipalities unless otherwise prohibited by laws of the country of which the local league is located.
Local Little League programs are required to annually conduct a background check of Managers, Coaches, Board of Directors members and any other persons, volunteers or hired workers, who provide regular service to the league and/or have repetitive access to, or contact with, players or teams. (Reg. I [b], Reg. I [c] 9.)
The purpose of these background checks is, ﬁrst and foremost, to protect children. Second, they maintain Little League as a hostile environment for those who would seek to harm children. Third, they may help to protect individuals and leagues from possible loss of personal or league assets because of litigation.
What Can Parents Do?
Most children have been warned about the dangers of talking to strangers. But for many children, sexual molestation is committed by someone they know. In fact, 80 to 85 percent of all sexual abuse cases in the U.S. are committed by an individual familiar to the victim, according to statistics compiled by Big Brothers & Big Sisters of America.
The truth is, child sex offenders can come from every background, every occupation, every race, and every level of education. They may be married, and they may have children of their own. It is dangerous to believe that the only threat is the stranger in a long raincoat, lurking behind a tree.
In fact, the promotion of this myth may contribute to the problem. Sometimes, a child who is molested by a known and “trusted” person will feel so guilty about not reacting the “right” way that he or she never reports the problem.
Sadly, we have all seen too many reports in which teachers, police ofﬁcers, clergy, youth sports volunteers, etc., trusted by all, have violated that trust and molested children in their care. Of course, this must never be tolerated in Little League or anywhere else.
In many of these situations, the young victims are actually seduced, sometimes over a period of months or even years. The child’s family is lulled into believing the unusual attention being lavished is a bond of friendship between the adult and the child. In fact, the adult abuser often uses gifts, trips, attention and affection as part of a courtship process. Sometimes, the courtship process extends to the child’s parent(s), but the real target is the child.
Often, but not always, the victim of this type of child sex offender is the child of a single parent. In these cases, the single parent sees the child’s adult friend as a surrogate parent – a Godsend. The very opposite is true.
Best Practices for Local Little Leagues and Parents
Generally, a person involved in a local Little League program should not put himself or herself in a one-on-one situation involving a child who is not their own. Of course, some isolated situations may arise where one-on-one situations could take place. However, a one-on-one situation should not be actively sought out by the adult, and should not be an ongoing occurrence.
Generally, a person involved in a local Little League program should not provide unwarranted gifts, trips, attention, and affection to individual children who are not their own. The key word is unwarranted.
Warning Signs of a Seducer
While it remains important to teach young children about the dangers of accepting items from strangers, or talking to them, we should all beware of the danger posed by the “seducer-type” child sex offender.
Each of the individual signs below means very little. Taken as a group, however, the signs MAY point to this type of child sex offender, and should be applied to anyone who has repetitive access to, or contact with, children.
- Provides unwarranted gifts, trips, affection, and attention to a speciﬁc child or small group of children
- Seeks access to children
- Gets along with children better than adults
- “Hangs around” children more than adults
- Has items at home or in vehicle speciﬁcally appealing to children of the ages they intend to molest, such as posters, music, videos, toys, and even alcohol or drugs
- Displays excessive interest in children (may include inviting children on camping trips or sleepovers)
- Single, over 25 years old (but could be married, sometimes as a “cover,” and could be any age)
- Photographs or video records children speciﬁcally
- Lives alone, or with parents
- Refers to children as objects (“angel,” “pure,” “innocent,” etc.)
- Manipulates children easily
What to Watch For in Your Child
We’ve seen the signs that could point to a child sex offender, but what about the signs a child might display when he or she has been sexually abused or exploited?
Some of these symptoms may be present in a child who has been, or is, being sexually abused, when such symptoms are not otherwise explainable: sudden mood swings, excessive crying, withdrawal, nightmares, bed-wetting, rebellious behavior, fear of particular people or places, infantile behavior, aggressive behavior, and physical signs such as pain, itch, bleeding, ﬂuid, or rawness in private areas.
Getting More Information
These items are meant solely as a general guide, and should not be used as the only means for rooting out child sex offenders. Parents can access more information on child abuse through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (a non-proﬁt organization founded by John Walsh); and the U.S. Department Of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Information Gateway.
How to Report Suspected Child Maltreatment
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offers a cybertipline to submit reports, or asks that you call: 1-800-The-Lost (1-800-843- 5678).
The Child Welfare Gateway advises that if you suspect a child is being maltreated, or if you are a child who is being maltreated, call: 1-800-422-4453.
This hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Hotline can tell you where to ﬁle your report and can help you make the report.
Talk to Your Kids; Listen to Your Kids
It is important that you as a parent talk frankly to your children. If a child reports sexual abuse, statistics show he or she is probably telling the truth.
Unfortunately, the sexually molested child often sees himself or herself as the one “at fault” for allowing abuse to happen. Your children MUST know that they can come to you with this information, and that you will support them, love them, and believe them.
If there is an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor, the crime should be reported immediately.