Preventing and Reporting Athlete Abuse: The Safe Sport Act

June 12, 2019

Recent allegations of sexual misconduct by team doctors reinforce the need for enhanced child abuse prevention and reporting standards in higher education and K-12 athletics. School athletic programs must enact stronger reporting policies to prevent further abuse.

The Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 (Safe Sport Act), signed into law in 2018, protects athletes from emotional, physical, and sexual abuse by creating new reporting and training requirements for amateur sports organizations. Many of these standards are considered best practices for child abuse prevention.

Schools are considered amateur sports organizations that must comply with the act if a team competes outside of its home state and includes minor athletes. For K-12 schools and higher education institutions that meet these criteria, review these recommended actions:

  • Treat all athletics staff and volunteers as mandatory reporters. Under the Safe Sport Act, if a school athletic team includes minors and conducts interstate travel, all the team’s personnel are mandatory reporters. The act states that mandatory reporters with reason to suspect abuse must follow their state’s reporting statute and report suspected abuse to law enforcement within 24 hours. Educate mandatory reporters on the state’s mandatory reporter requirements through school policy language and training.
  • Train staff and volunteers on prevention and reporting requirements. The act requires amateur sports organizations to train adults who are in regular contact with minor athletes to prevent and report child abuse. Training should include:
    • Sexual misconduct prevention
    • Grooming behaviors exhibited by sexual predators, such as:
      • Exhibiting preferential treatment toward a student
      • Excessively touching or hugging students
      • Sharing inappropriate secrets
      • Making sexual comments about students
    • Appropriate boundaries
    • Mandatory reporting requirements
    • Applicable federal, state, and school reporting procedures
    • Strengthen school policies. The act requires schools to:
      • Limit one-on-one interactions between minor athletes and adults to those that are observable by another adult and within an interruptible distance, except in emergencies.
      • Prohibit retaliation by the organization against anyone who reports abuse under the mandated reporter law. Also consider banning retaliation by staff or students against anyone who reports suspected abuse. Students are more likely to report abuse when they do not fear retaliation.
      School policies should also reference the state mandatory reporter law. Identify which personnel are considered mandatory reporters under state and federal law, including athletic reporters under the Safe Sport Act.
    • Add a U.S. Center for SafeSport (USCSS) disciplinary records search to background checks. Under the act, Olympic organizations must report allegations of athlete abuse to the USCSS, which investigates and resolves the allegation and catalogues any disciplinary records. When hiring new athletic employees or performing periodic background checks, consider searching the public USCSS database of disciplinary actions.

    Implementing the enhanced reporting requirements and training prescribed in the Safe Sport Act can help institutions prevent the abuse of amateur athletes.

    By Melanie Bennett, risk management counsel at United Educators

    U.S. Center for Safe Sport
    Higher Ed: Protecting Children Learning Program

    Protecting Children Learning Program (K-12)