Police Probing YMCA attack


98,500 children were sexually abused in the US in 1999, the last year for which data is available. As many JCC professionals know, abuse, sexual and otherwise, occurs nearly everywhere. Yet, there is a natural inclination to believe abuse won’t happen in our own communities, not to mention our own JCC. Awareness of the threat is key, and reinforcing proven abuse prevention strategies is an essential element in protecting the kids in our programs. Both are the goals for our “Abuse Alert” program. Each is a brief treatment of the topic, focussing on one real, recent, public event, gleaned from the media… reprinting the article about the event in its entirety (omitting names and identifying references to the YMCA) and providing a few important teaching points for you to share with your staff. As always, if you need additional guidance on this topic, please call us at 800-463-8546.

“Police Probing YMCA attack”

NORTHEAST SUBURB: 03/25/2003 – City detectives are trying to unravel the details surrounding a report of a sexual assault that took place at the YMCA on [street], police said Monday.

Detective Lt. [name], head of the Detective Division said Monday police are investigating the sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl inside the YMCA. [Detective] said the girl was attacked about 8 p.m. Thursday.

[Detective] would not release specifics of the assault or any other matter about the investigation. “We don’t want to compromise the investigation,” [detective] said.

The lieutenant said the girl told police that she was sexually assaulted by “several” teenagers. [Detective] said police were attempting to determine exactly who was involved. He said police do have suspects and were expected to conduct more interviews with them as well as the victim.

Police said she was treated for injuries at [name] Hospital and released.

“Y director promises investigation”

NORTHEAST SUBURB: 03/26/2003 – The general director of the YMCA said no matter the outcome of the investigation surrounding the case of an alleged sexual assault at the facility, a review would be done.

“We’re going to review everything,” [name], general director of the YMCA, said Tuesday. “We want to be responsible in our response.”

On Monday, [suburb] Detective Lt. [name] said police were investigating the sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl inside the YMCA. He said the girl told police she was attacked by several teenagers on Thursday at about 8 p.m.

No specifics of the assault or any matter related to the investigation were released and [detective] said Tuesday that the investigation is continuing and no arrests have been made yet.

[YMCA director], who would not comment on the incident specifically, said the YMCA’s staff is “aware at all times.” He said people are screened when they come through the door and children are asked to sign in.

The YMCA does not have hired security but does provide extra staff in the afternoons and evenings to deal with programs, [YMCA director] said.

“YMCA head vows action in wake of assault”

EASTERN SUBURB: 04/03/2003 – The general director of the YMCA of [name] said the agency has already begun taking action to prevent incidents similar to an alleged sexual assault from occurring there in the future.

“From the Y’s perspective, as a staff, we continue to be concerned about the safety of our children,” [YMCA director] said Wednesday. He said the YMCA has been working through a Texas consultant who deals with incidents similar to the alleged assault to get recommendations and suggestions on how to prevent them in the future.

The agency is also forming a task force through its youth committee to look at new programs that are of interest and appropriate for kids who do not want to swim or play basketball but want to come to the YMCA to be with their friends, [YMCA director] said.

On March 24, [suburb] police Detective Lt. [name] said police were investigating the sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl inside the YMCA on [street].

He said the girl told police she had been attacked by several teenagers on March 20 at about 8 p.m. No specifics of the assault or any matter relating to the investigation was released.

However, [suburb] police detectives expect to review the case with the [county] District Attorney’s Office within the next few days, city police Detective Sergeant [name] said Wednesday. He said the review would be done due the fact that juveniles are involved in the case.

[Detective sergeant] added that detectives have a number of suspects in mind and are evaluating the evidence and allegations against them.

What we do know:

  • up to 40% of sexual abuse incidents are peer to peer
  • child abusers are opportunistic
  • many young people are sexually curious; this often brings exploration and experimentation
  • the monitoring and supervising of unaccompanied children in this facility was deficient with respect to procedure or practice, possibly both
  • some form of grossly inappropriate sexual activity occurred in this YMCA…

What we don’t know:

  • whether the sexual activity was forced as originally reported, or whether the girl was (at least initially) a willing participant
    • this is moot from the standpoint of participation, as an 11-year-old cannot consent to have sex with anyone…it might explain the lack of reported calls for help, however
    • it is also moot from the standpoint of the supervision…willing or unwilling, supervision should be such that such inappropriate behavior cannot occur in a YMCA facility
  • the extent, quality, and timeliness of any communication between the YMCA and the parents of the victim

What we can do to protect our children:

  • establish appropriate rules for the presence and behavior of unaccompanied children in our facility
    • determine which age group(s) of children can be in our facility at what times of the day
    • define the activities and locations in which those groups of children may participate
    • provide active, effective methods of ensuring the children are appropriately supervised
      • have documented checks of all locker room areas throughout the day, especially when children are present (e.g., sweep sheets)
      • have adequate staff to supervise the children and their movement whenever they are present…never leave children unmonitored, especially in locker rooms or other potentially hidden, private, or intimate spaces
      • if walking the children from place to place is inappropriate because of age or impractical because of cost, consider using walkie-talkies or some other means to alert staff in the destination area that a child is on his/her way
  • increase the frequency and random nature of staff presence in the locker rooms
    • have maintenance and janitorial staff wander through their respective gender’s locker room whenever they are passing by
    • have staff use the locker room facilities instead of other restrooms for biological breaks
  • keep doors closed and locked
    • to all service areas
    • to all programming areas not actively in use

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about JCC risk management issues.


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