Adult involved with youth makes girls feel uncomfortable.
Dear Stop It Now!,
When I was in middle school, there was this adult who always helped out at church. None of us felt comfortable with her. She would always hug and tickle the girls even after we asked her to stop. She even made one of my friends cry one time. We felt so uncomfortable that we even got her banned from the youth group for a year.
She lives with her mom, and doesn't have many adult friends. She is a substitute teacher and coaches girls high school softball and volunteers on a local swimming pool board. My experience was from 10 years ago. I don't know what to do about it now. She is still working and volunteering at all the same places that she did.
I am very worried that she could be sexually abusive. Her whole life is kids. Is this something I should confront someone about, and who should I talk to? I don't want to ruin her life if she is truly innocent.
Dear Concerned Community Member,
I appreciate that you want to respond to warning signs in an adult, and keep children safe while being respectful of this woman’s life. I applaud that you were able to join with others to speak up about your concerns and that she was temporarily removed from a situation where children didn't feel safe.
Talk to others
Here is one way to express your concerns that can be preventative and educational for the youth serving organizations she is involved with: You could ask the organization(s) general questions about their policies regarding student safety. You can express that when you were a student, you had experienced some discomfort with the way a staff member engaged with you physically and that you had recently attended our webinar, and that it raised questions for you about how each program deals with this issue.
Do you have contact with other folks who have shared with you their discomfort with this person? Perhaps this can be a supported group effort and together, you can approach each organization. Further, I wonder if any of the discussions that were had back when this woman was "banned from the youth group" can be presented again. This is important information and if the concerns were serious enough once to take this action, what changed to allow her continued access to children?
Finding an ally is always a strong action step. And additionally, look over these resources to help prepare you for a conversation of this nature.
- Sexual Safety in Sports: Talking about Coaches Who Show Inappropriate Interest in Kids
- Nine Questions Parents Need to Ask When Selecting a Program for their Child
- Safety In Daycare/Educational Settings – this tip sheet is more for the program itself, but you may find it helpful to share with them
Yes, you may need to mention this person by name but again you can speak about the specific behaviors and not label this woman as an abuser. More importantly is for everyone to see that there are behaviors that can make children uncomfortable, cross boundaries and create environments that can increase children’s vulnerability to abuse.
Also, I’m wondering if anyone has ever raised concerns directly with this woman herself or to anyone in a supervisory role with her? [why did they remove her from the youth group for one year?] Have you ever addressed your concerns specifically to this woman? One possible action step would be to consider having a conversation directly with her, bringing with you an ally that you feel can support you and shares your concerns.
I realize that this may seem a scary step but perhaps this direct communication will help this woman recognize that the behaviors she demonstrates are a risk to children’s safety. This conversation doesn’t have to be accusation but rather a sharing of concerns and information about children’s safety. Please take a look at our guidebook, “Let’s Talk.” For a free download go to our Prevention Tools page, click the Guidebooks tab, then click on “Let’s Talk.”
If this woman has been approached previously with concerns about her behavior, and nothing has changed, this would be another warning sign. In this case, it is important that adults who are in positions of responsibility for children’s safety plan on how to create the safest environment possible, which may include taking further steps with this woman.
I hope this information is helpful, and please do not hesitate to contact us back with further concerns or questions.
Stop It Now!
Last edited on: November 26th, 2019