The UK has recently been made aware of historic child sex abuse in football, but sadly it would seem that football is not the only sport where this has happened. While we have currently legal measures in place to vet adults that are responsible for teaching children (known as Disclosure and Baring) they are not by any means foolproof.
Martial arts is very much a hands on. One of the reasons I have huge reservations about training with under-16’s is that an accidental contact with an adult’s privates is very different to an accidental contact with a child’s privates. In the UK we have a deep disgust of paedophiles and even the shadow of an accusation can have long lasting consequences. I’d rather avoid a potential situation by not training with children to start with. However, there people are willing to train children and recognise the benefits in doing so and occasionally I find myself in a situation where I am training with people under the age of 16. This raises two questions.
- How do you ensure that you conduct yourself in way that a child doesn’t feel sexually harassed or leaves you open to false accusations?
- How do you respond when a child tells you that one of the adults they train with is acting inappropriately?
This subject is a tricky one and even asking those questions may make some people feel uncomfortable. I hesitated several times before writing this and posting it the hostile world of the internet. I also like to think everyone I train with is above reproach, but in reality I know little of their lives outside the dojo.
Here are some thoughts, please feel free to contact me if there are any more you would like to see added.
- Firstly, comply with the law in your country when it comes to working with children. In the UK this means DAB checks. If your martial arts school is part of a nationwide organisation check that they have the same measures in place.
- Ensure that there is always at least two (maybe even three?) children and two adults in the room. This way both parties feel more comfortable. My aikido club sees the parents of the children sat at the entrance of the dojo while their children train. (In addition if the children suffer any injuries the parents are on hand).
- It sounds obvious, but adults should hold off getting changed until all the children have left.
- If a child mentions something to you, take it seriously. Children can be poor communicators, not knowing how to explain something to an adult. With the historic sex abuse cases in the UK it would seem time and time again when children did speak out their concerns where dismissed. It’s easy to do but don’t automatically believe the adult over the child.
- It may be wise to have separate children’s classes, but I recognise that this is not always an option.
- If an adult member of class says they don’t wish to train with children then avoid pairing them up with children. The adult may have very good reasons for their request, which probably wasn’t an easy one to make to start with. It’s not for the person teaching to question that request.
I would really love for us adults to have more open discussions about our concerns with working with children in a contact sport. The one time I raised it at a dojo I was training at I was dismissed outright. “You’re a nice person, you’ve got nothing to fear.” No, I may not have, but I don’t have any children of my own and have had very little interaction with them. Believe it or not I don’t instinctively know the line at which a child feels uncomfortable in a contact sport, and I don’t want them to dread training because of thoughtless behaviour on my part. For example, is grabbing a child’s hips to correct their posture OK? I don’t know, but to my mind it’s OK for adults to do to each other.
The subject of child sex abuse is a tricky one but by taking a proactive approach we can ensure that all parties are comfortable and aware of the boundaries and hopefully avoid the worse case scenario.