A new student shows signs of sexual abuse.


Dear Stop It Now!,

I am a coach for a middle school gymnastics team.  A new student has joined our team and I think she shows signs of possible sexual abuse. She talks a lot about sexual things that she shouldn’t really know that much about. She has made some comments about not wanting to be home alone when her mom’s boyfriend is there. She also has recently lost a lot of weight and complains that she feels sick frequently. Are these signs of abuse? Is there anything I can do?*

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Dear Concerned Coach,

It’s great that you are paying attention to your athletes' well-being. Yes, you can follow up on your concerns.

Warning Signs
You have identified some of the warning signs that could indicate this student may be experiencing something stressful. While one or two of these signs may not mean anything, a pattern of or repeated signs could indicate that a child or teen is experiencing distress in their life. These could be signs of sexual abuse, and at the very least they warrant attention and follow up by the caring adults in this girl's life.

Finding Allies and Working with the School
Are there other school staff with concerns about this student? Have there been other observations made and shared with you. It is always helpful when you have someone to talk with about your observations and concerns. Allies can help you prepare to take next steps.What are the school policies that can also help you know what steps to take? Review the policies and check with your supervisor and/or your school administration when a student may be being abused or there is a concern about a student's safety. How have situations like this be handled before? You should not have to make decisions in isolation; your school policies should provide guidance about the steps expected of you.

Talking to the Student
Have you talked to your student? Sharing what you have noticed, you can open up the conversation and let her know you are concerned.  Give time for her to respond and reassure her. If she becomes defensive or even angry, it’s ok to back off and let her know that you care about her safety and that hope she will seek out help if she needs it. I do want you to be prepared in case she does disclose sexual abuse so please look over this information from our Online Help Center: Know what to do When a Child Tells About Sexual Abuse. 

As a side note, you may want to share with all your young gymnasts the resources available to them such as the school counseling department and even child helplines such as the Boystown National Helpline for Youth.  Both are 24 hours, confidential and can help any student talk through any private concerns he or she may have and problem solve how to be safe.

Talking with the Parent
Have you had a chance to talk to her mom about your observations? I recognize this may seem either difficult or even possibly risky, and I encourage you to join with another adult, such as any other staff who have concerns or again, perhaps the school counselor in scheduling an appointment with mom and talking to her about her daughter. 
Using the warning signs and your observations, you can share with mom that you have some worries about her daughter. Describe only what you’ve seen. Do not make accusations or even try to share your opinion about what may be going on. Let mom know that you want to join her in keeping her daughter safe and that there are resources for her if she needs help.

The conversation may go in a variety of ways, but you can always end it if seems like mom is getting upset. You’ve raised your concern and she may need time to process it. However, let her know that you will follow up with her to discuss addressing the concerns.

I hope this information is helpful.  Again, it's wonderful that you are following up on your observations and concerns to help a teen who may be being abuse.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

*Model question


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Last edited on: November 6th, 2018