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Touch is an essential aspect of everyday life. However, whilst there has been comprehensive research conducted on the therapeutic effects of touch, the effects of inappropriate touching can be very distressing, unpleasant and even traumatic. Abusive coaches have been found to slowly push back the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, increasingly violating personal space, using verbal familiarity, emotional blackmail, and eventually physical contact. If an athlete rejects this, then they may expelled from the sport or be snubbed by the coach. If, however, the athlete surrenders to these advances, they may find that they become trapped into relinquishing to the coach’s demands. Abusive coaches often establish a respected role among the community in order to obscure their behaviour. The situation may be exasperated if you have a high ratio of girls to coaches. For example, if the programme employs 1 coach to train 30 girls, people may not want to believe that the coach is the problem and proceed to expel the girl.
An important decision programme directors will make in implementing a sport programme is who will work with girls. In considering staff selection, it is useful to consider first, the absence of “bad” and secondly, the presence of “good.”
Girls’ safety in your programme depends on ensuring that they are working with adults who are trustworthy and do not have a history of gender-based violence or illegal activities. Being a good technical coach or a friendly person is not enough. Conducting background and reference checks prior to hiring is an absolute non negotiable requirement. If you have the resources, there are third-party services that administer background checks. If those services are not available, an alternative is to contact a minimum of three references provided by an applicant. It is never too late to conduct background checks. If you have already established your sport programme, requiring existing staff to submit to background checks can be a powerful step in improving girls’ safety. Those with histories of any sort of GBV should not be hired.
Once you have conducted staff background checks, a next step is to build their capacity to work with girls on accessing their right to be free from gender-based violence. This is not a quick process, nor is it one that is ever complete. The following are basic ideas shared by programme partners for how to train staff in this area:
Tips on Training Staff to Address GBV with Girls
- Know and follow the laws about gender-based violence
- Listen to girls. Solicit their opinions, experiences and ideas for how to make change in their lives. Respect what they say.
- Practice effective communication: be open, direct and sincere with girls when you speak.
- Demonstrate professionalism and consciousness of personal boundaries.
- Understand reporting requirements with respect to abuse or neglect of kids.
- Avoid any physical contact that might be misinterpreted as intimate or sexual.
- Avoid holding meetings at coaches’ house with individuals or small groups.
- Be aware that as a coach, you are in a position of power relative to girls. Be sensitive to this reality and don’t abuse this power.
- Create alliances with local service providers for help with educating girls and reporting abuse.
- Never use physical force or anger in interactions with girls
- Establish a protocol for reporting and tending to abuse and injury before you need to use it.
- Be vigilant that girls are also vulnerable to abuse when travelling. Consider that abuse can happen anywhere at any time.
- Don’t ever show favouritism and avoid being judgmental. Situations may arise where girls become infatuated or crave your attention. Don’t pay special attention and try to handle such matters delicately.
Working with girls who are in danger of or have survived GBV can be emotionally demanding on coaches and programme staff. Beyond making sure that girls have the resources they need to access justice, it can increase sustainability and promote a healthy working environment to make sure coaches have access to necessary psychological support. Programme partners report making counselling services known to coaches and staff. In one case, a counsellor from a nearby social service agency was invited into the sport programme after training to serve as an outlet for coaches.