In April, the Action Alliance co-hosted a panel discussion titled, “When Trust is Exploited in Youth Sports” to raise awareness of and work to prevent sexual assault in youth sports. The event was organized by Action Alliance Governing Body member, Fatima M. Smith.
When asked why she organized this event, Fatima responded:
James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” And I would say to be a survivor is to balance between rage and healing all the time.
I have found that to be a Black woman is to be a survivor. A survivor of systemic racism and oppression and then sexual assault, but I often do not find outlets that honor my experiences in a way that reflects my humanity.
“When Trust is Exploited in Youth Sports” is a product of balancing rage and healing. In creating this event, I wanted a space where survivors would be believed. While this event included only two accounts, my hope was that it would be reflective of a bigger need for us as a society to believe survivors.
We encourage community members to watch the recording of this event so they know how to support survivors, and for caregivers, perhaps how to prevent sexual assault before it happens.
Sexual assault is not a “me” problem, but rather “our” problem. This event included parents, clinicians, advocates, community members, and survivors to show that this is truly a community issue requiring a community response. Here are some key points from this event:
- The response of family and friends matters. For every survivor you don’t believe, the opportunity creates five more survivors. Your response matters. We know that it is a small group of individuals who are the perpetrators and when we choose not to believe survivors, that allows perpetrators to continue abusing others.
- As a caregiver, it isn’t enough to just tell your kid, “Hey, tell me if something bad happens to you.” We need in-depth conversations about sexual assault, abuse, consent, and boundaries. There are age-appropriate ways to start these conversations and modeling consent from a very young age. For caregivers, in addition to talking to your own children, one panelist suggested that when first enrolling your child for a group activity, you might put the coach or organizer on notice that you’ve had conversations with your child about abuse and that you’re watching them.
- Sexual abuse of children doesn’t occur because of negligent caregivers. Those who abuse engage in “grooming,” a process of building trust and connection with children and caregivers so they can manipulate or abuse them. This can happen in person and/or online.
- “Disclosure” of a situation of abuse may look different than you expect. Children may not tell you that someone touched them either because of a feeling of shame or fear of losing friends or an activity they love, or uncertainty about what happened. Instead, it may be a behavioral change (e.g., they seem more withdrawn), or a more subtle response about feeling uncomfortable or weird by a situation.
- Caregivers need support, too! If a child informs a caregiver of a situation of abuse, caregivers will need support to help them navigate healthy ways of responding. Caregivers will often feel a variety of their own emotions and process their own thoughts. It can be helpful to have your own support system to ensure you can center your focus on the social, emotional, and physical needs of the child. As caregivers seek that support for themselves, they should be mindful that the story of abuse belongs to their child and they should discuss with their child the sharing of that story with others, particularly close family members or friends.
We are grateful to Fatima and Abbey for sharing their personal experiences with us. As Fatima shares, she “wanted folks to see examples of survivors who are healing. That does not stop days of struggle, but it also does not stop us. We are in healthy relationships. We are parents. We are social workers. We are active community members. We are daughters. We are friends. Most importantly, we are more than the sexual abuse that happened to us, but we are also products of that. It informs how we see the world, but it is not the only way we want the world to see us.”
“This event was very personal for me and something I didn’t realize my soul needed: activism is therapeutic for me. I am thankful to the event partners, the planning committee, the panelists, and the participants who took an active interest in this topic because it is our community problem. Together, we can work to support survivors and towards preventing sexual assault.”
“When Trust is Exploited in Youth Sports” was organized by Fatima M. Smith, of FMS Speaks, in collaboration with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, YWCA of Richmond, Hanover Safe Place, and Henrico CASA. The event was held on April 14, 2021. If you were unable to attend the live event, you can view the full recording at: tinyurl.com/healingaftersa
Fatima M. Smith is a survivor, relentless advocate and founder of FMS Speaks, LLC. She established FMS Speaks as a way to share her passion for anti-violence work, racial justice, and engage folks in dialogue that ignites action for progress. Fatima serves as a member of the Action Alliance’s Governing Body.
To learn more about Building Consent Communities, visit https://vsdvalliance.org/change-culture/building-consent-communities/ There are also resources for caregivers online at: https://vsdvalliance.org/get-help-ayuda/resources-for-caregivers/
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault or abuse, please know you have options. Contact the Virginia Statewide Hotline at 800-838-8238, via text at 804-793-9999 or by chat at https://www.vadata.org/chat/. For resources in the Richmond metro-area, visit: tinyurl.com/greaterrvaresourcesRead more news