Understanding grooming

  • Integrity Blog

Child safety and safeguarding participants were topics explored at Sport Integrity Australia’s Managing Integrity in Sport course in Canberra last week.

The three-day intensive course, developed in partnership with Victoria University, is designed to enhance the knowledge of National Sporting Organisations and their integrity managers across the range of integrity issues covered in the National Integrity Framework.

Forensic psychologist Dr Karla Lopez, who has over 20 years' experience in child safeguarding and offender interventions, presented on factors such as grooming which enable sexual abuse of children. 

Dr Lopez said our inclination was to believe that grooming wouldn’t happen in our own backyard “but that attitude is what can enable abuse to occur”.

In a range of contexts, but specifically in sport “people are seeing things that are not quite right, but not saying anything,” she said. “But when we don’t say anything, it favours potential offenders. They are banking on people being polite and not rocking the boat.”

Dr Lopez explained how offenders will always test the boundaries.

“Offenders will look for vulnerabilities and test the boundaries through small steps to see how far they can get.  What we are trying to do is stop them at those very early steps.”

She said policies are words on paper, but it’s the actions of people to implement that policy which protect children and young people.

“Offenders create environments that help them to offend. What we are trying to understand is how you can make sure your sporting environments cannot be manipulated to their advantage.

“Offenders don’t want to get caught, so they will aim to fit in, be compliant, get along with people. The ‘person’ is difficult to identify because people are still inclined to believe that there is a ‘type’ of person that offends, but what those people have in common is the use of certain behaviours that we can actually identify, if we know what to look for. We need to empower people in sport to understand and identify those behaviours.”

Her message for any sport administrator was ensure your child safeguarding policies are backed up by clear, transparent action. 

"If you say that you take concerns and complaints seriously, make the means of reporting easy and visible and follow through with investigations until safety is restored."

While there is not a sex offender type, Dr Lopez encouraged us to pay attention to things that don’t seem right, ‘don’t ignore your instincts’. 

"If someone seems to avoid adult supervision, finds excuses to be alone with children, transgresses boundaries (online included) that is someone to watch, a call for intervention," she said. "Seemingly small transgressions can lead to more harmful behaviour if left unchecked.

And of course, if children seem sad, apprehensive around someone or avoidant, talk to them about it, understand their concerns. Protecting children may lead to some uncomfortable conversations but that is preferable to being a by-stander. If you are feeling out of your depth, seek guidance. You are not alone."

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