Protecting Against Sexual Predators


Quite frankly, sexual predators are more cunning than most of the rest of us – not necessarily smarter, but more capable of exploiting protocols, convincing others that their reasons for wanting to work at the YMCA are appropriate, and looking like an ideal staff member. While we can’t stop them from their sinister addiction to children, we can make the YMCA a difficult place for them to work or play. They do not want to be caught, so building aggressive, highly visible policies to protect your children will cause predators to seek employment or access elsewhere. Keeping them away helps to keep the children in your care safe from those who desire to harm them, at least while they are with you.

The following paragraphs provide an overview of what can be done to proactively address the risk sexual predators pose to your operation. A primal fear of most YMCA executives is that a child might be abused in their program – to first learn from a front page news article or TV news flash that one of their staff has been arrested for abusing a child or children, or that a predator has gained access to children through his or her facility would be especially devastating. Please refer to the various sources cited herein, your Redwoods’ risk manager, and other child abuse prevention experts for further information that can aid in keeping children safe.

Hiring practices

Vigorous hiring protocols and staff training are the first line of defense against a sexual predator working for or accessing a YMCA. Reference checks of prior employers and a criminal background check are insufficient to keep your kids safe. Consider also your employment and volunteer applications. Do they make it clear that you take child abuse prevention seriously? Consider augmenting your applications by including a zero tolerance statement regarding child abuse. Have applicants sign a statement that avows they are not and have never been a child abuser. An individual who is seeking to gain access to children will not want to work at a place that puts those policies front and center on the job application. See RMT- Protect Children Through Hiring Practices for more detailed information on this topic.

Control building access

Managing your environment – Guaranteeing an absolutely safe space is impossible – there are too many variables, of which people are the most erratic and unpredictable. However, to the extent possible you should:

  • Prevent unauthorized entry by minimizing and securing all the possible ways into the building
  • Identify everyone who enters the building by requiring YMCA or government-issued ID each time they enter
  • Record ID information for every day-pass user and guest-of-member, either on or in addition to a waiver document
  • Keep each individual’s name, address, and telephone number in a permanent record
  • Include the affiliation of any AWAY guests
  • The day after their first visit call local day-pass users and guests to thank them for visiting your Y – it’s a good marketing tool, but if the phone number is not valid the address probably isn’t either, so mark your records to deny them future access
  • Email or call the YMCA named by a guest to verify the membership – if the other association does not confirm the guest’s AWAY membership, mark your records to deny them future access
  • Require vendors or meeting attendees to register at the front desk and get a vendor or visitor pass every time they enter the building and to wear it conspicuously
  • Train all staff to welcome each individual who they do not know, especially one not in workout clothing; this welcome should include politely determining the person’s purpose, verifying the authorization, and guiding him or her as needed (including, if appropriate, out of the building)
  • Keep doors locked to all areas that are not actively in use. Locking all service and inactive programming areas limits places for potential abuse to bathrooms and active programming areas, thus reducing exposure
  • Monitor bathrooms and restrooms – post sweep sheets that demonstrate a frequent but irregular staff presence (i.e., access by multiple staff members, always less than 30 minutes apart, with no discernable pattern); they are a great deterrent to abuse and to locker room theft
  • Staff should wander through these areas whenever going anywhere in the facility
  • Lifeguards should wander through these areas when performing non-scanning duties

Plan, build, or restructure space, as possible, so:

  • Access to childcare areas is restricted
  • Bathrooms and locker rooms have no locking mechanism on the hallway door unless the room is designed for individual or family use
  • Bathroom and locker room doors, especially family locker rooms or unisex bathrooms, are situated so that access is controlled by a programmable lock or can be monitored by direct staff observation or security cameras
  • Bathrooms for childcare are located inside the respective childcare rooms
  • Bathrooms located inside childcare rooms have Dutch doors so that staff can monitor behavior without infringing on the children’s privacy and dignity
  • Access to bathrooms that are outside of childcare rooms can be limited to the children and supervising staff when children are using them

Computer usage

News media coverage has recently exposed several individuals who have been arrested for using computers and the internet to do harm to children. In the majority of cases the individual was found to have child pornography on his personal computer; some had porn on the work computers as well. Your YMCA should establish a policy and practice where the internet history of each YMCA computer is periodically checked. The deletion of that history record is a red flag requiring further investigation. You have the right to stipulate sites that may not be visited using YMCA hardware. Implementing an aggressive computer monitoring program may identify staff members who have visited inappropriate sites, but more importantly, it shows that you are very serious about preventing any behavior that may lead to or indicate potential abuse of children.

Remember to reinforce your no contact outside of YMCA programs rule as it relates to texting and social media websites. For more information on computer, telephone, and social media policies please see RMA–Electronic Communication Policy and RMA–Social Media Guidelines.

Staff monitoring

Review your abuse prevention code of conduct with staff regularly.

  • Ensure that they fully understand that they are not to be alone with children.
  • If children are seen having inappropriate physical contact with staff, step in immediately.
  • Continually re-enforce with the children the need to promptly report any rule violation, including how and to whom it can be reported.
  • We don’t catch abusers abusing children – we catch them breaking the rules. The only way to catch rule violations is to have frequent but irregular monitoring of programs when they are in operation. This could be done by utilizing other staff and a form similar to our Child Care Quick Check, chatting with parents about their child’s experience in the program, specifically asking staff if they have noticed any red-flag behavior, violation of rules, etc.

Parents, Kids, and Community

Educate both kids and parents of kids in your programs with the rules your staff are expected to follow. Include someone to contact (name, phone number, and email – preferably one of each gender) if their child ever tells them about something that violates a YMCA rule. Share the documents that are provided to the kids’ parents with your staff so they will understand what information the kids and parents have received about required staff behavior. Child abuse usually takes place away from the program – make sure staff and parents clearly understand your babysitting and outside contact policies. You should also encourage them to view the Darkness to Light abuse prevention training for everyone in the community. See also RMA – Abuse Prevention Information for Parents and Y Child Safe Environment brochure.


We all learned years ago from Smokey the Bear that “only you can prevent forest fires.” Take that same attitude with your YMCA – only you can prevent child abuse. Build vigorous policies, monitor behavior, and enlist everyone’s help. Be alert and stop inappropriate behavior when it is first observed. Soon you will make your YMCA a scary place for a pedophile to work or visit and you will have created a safe haven for the kids you serve.

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


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