Zionsville resident Becky Cash believes parents need to take it upon themselves to learn how to identify signs of child sexual abuse, especially in sports.
Cash, a Republican candidate for the new Indiana House District 25 seat, was angry when she first read the news regarding former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar. He was convicted in 2017 of sexually abusing hundreds of girls, many of whom were athletes. Other local sexual abuse cases — such as former Witham Health Services pediatrician Dr. Jonathon Cavins, who was convicted and sentenced for acts perpetrated on five boys while he was their treating pediatrician — made Cash feel she needed to do something.
“Over the last few years, with the national spotlight on the abuse scandals in gymnastics and then swimming, it has come out that this is a systemic issue in sports, and the rules of engagement are different in sports,” Cash said. “One teenager said to me, ‘I was told from a very young age good touch, bad touch, what is OK, what is not OK. But when it happened in the gym, we didn’t recognize it.’
“The parents are all there, and they aren’t seeing, and they aren’t recognizing it. When (the teenager) said that, she said, ‘My mom was in the room, and she didn’t know.’ That is why we are specifically focusing on sports.”
To help parents and guardians better understand and recognize the signs of sexual abuse in sports, Cash has organized a free public event where Toby Stark, CEO and founder of Stark Consulting Group LLC, will inform parents of ways to spot and report instances of child sexual abuse and how to educate their children on the topic. The event is from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at Zionsville Town Hall, 1100 W. Oak St. Register at eventbrite.com/e/child-sexual-abuse-prevention-response-in-youth-sports-tickets-207669213207?aff=esfb&fbclid=IwAR0ZXYNETz0arWP9AeLW9dHjysT8Ke8ExSxyJErQQXn9HF2K90wciglmuw8.
“I’ve always been concerned about child sexual abuse,” Cash said. “My husband and I were foster parents in a couple of different states. We have six children of our own, so as a mother, everything in your life is, ‘Protect my kid, protect my kid.’”
At the beginning of the year, Cash contacted Sylvia’s Child Advocacy Center, which connected her with Stark, who used to do prevention work for the center. Stark now speaks at events across the U.S. about ways to prevent child sexual abuse.
“One of the things that really prompted me to do this was having kids,” Cash said. ‘And more than just having a daughter who’s a gymnast, it really started to bother me that, despite the fact that the roof has been blown off this, I have never once had any sports entity say to me, ‘We’re doing a training for parents on how to detect it,’ or, ‘We are doing a training on the athletes on how to detect it.’ I feel that parents have been left out of the equation.”
As a result, Stark, a child advocate plans to teach parents and guardians specific ways to prevent child sexual abuse.
“We want to be able to educate parents on how to minimize the risk of abuse for their children who are playing sports,” Stark said. “There is a really unique sports dynamic between coach and player as well as coach and parent, so when we talk about preventing child sexual abuse on Dec. 2, it will be within that dynamic of youth sports.”
According to Stark, 1 in 10 children will be abused by their 18th birthday. She said 90 percent of those children are abused by someone “they know, love and trust.”
“One of the most important messages that I share with parents is, you are not necessarily protecting your children against this person or that kind of person or this organization,” Stark said. “You are protecting your children, period. This is just how your family does things.”
During the event, Stark plans to address three main pillars.
“First is educating parents on what child sexual abuse is and what it is not, as well as the depth and breadth of it,” Stark said. “And we will talk about recognizing signs. We will talk about some concrete, pragmatic things people can do every day to minimize the risks of abuse. And then we will talk about responding to either disclosure or a discovery or a suspicion. There are legal responsibilities for how to respond, but you also have to respond to the child so that you are not retraumatizing the child.”
Indiana reporting laws
In Indiana, everyone is a mandated reporter of known or suspected child abuse, said Toby Stark, CEO and founder of Stark Consulting Group LLC.
“That means, legally, anybody in Indiana who has knowledge of or a reasonable suspicion of child abuse is required to report it to the Indiana Dept. of Child Services or local law enforcement,” Stark said. “That is so important because so many people will know they have to report, but they don’t know who to report to.”
The Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline can be reached by calling 1-800-800-5556.