Failure To Report And Victim Blaming: Two Common Issues With Witnesses To Sexual Abuse

A couple worked as community team youth swim coaches for several years in Raleigh, North Carolina. In December 2017, police arrested the male coach for sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl. The male was the victim's year-round swim coach with the community swim team.

In March 2018, police also arrested the female coach and charged her with "contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile." Police have accused her of "allowing a 14-year-old girl 'to be in a place, in a vehicle alone with a person' who she knew was abusing the child."

According to the search warrant, the woman knew that her boyfriend sexually assaulted the young victim. Instead of reporting the incident to authorities, however, she called the child and told her that she had "ruined her relationship" with the perpetrator and demanded that she stay away from the male swim coach.

The 14-year-old swimmer first told the detective about the perpetrator's alleged sexual assault. After police arrested him, the teen told the detective that the man's girlfriend knew about the abuse prior to his arrest. Police found a text message exchange between the couple, confirming that the woman knew about the abuse.

The couple has been placed on USA Swimming's list of permanently banned coaches for violating the agency's SafeSport code, according to the USA Swimming website. Thomasi McDonald "Swim coach knew her boyfriend, also a coach, had sexually assaulted teen, police say," (May 02, 2018).

Commentary and Checklist

In this matter, the female swim coach not only did not report the abuse, she blamed the victim for the abuse and saw herself as a victim instead of the child. Unfortunately, placing the blame on the victim is common and leads to witnesses of abuse failing to report it. However, failure to report can have serious consequences for adults.

According to the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCCASA), everyone in that state has a duty to report sexual abuse. This is not unlike many states that have mandatory child sexual abuse reporting laws requiring everyone to report.

All states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have statutes identifying those who are required to report suspected child sexual abuse. Mandatory reporters are people who typically have frequent contact with children. Such individuals may include: social workers; teachers, principals, and other school personnel; health care providers, both physical and mental; medical examiners; law enforcement personnel; film processors; computer technicians; clergy; directors, employees, and volunteers at entities that provide organized activities for children, such as camps, day camps, youth centers, and recreation centers; domestic violence counselors; and animal control officers.

In this case, the female coach failed to protect the child by reporting the male coach. That is a crime, just like the child sexual abuse itself.

What steps should safe adults take when they have knowledge of, or reasonably suspect, child sexual abuse?

  • Report immediately to the police or the local governmental child protection agency.
  • The report should contain as much information as you have about the identity of the child and the accused.
  • If you can keep the child away from the accused, do so.
  • Any other information that might help establish the need for protective services or court intervention.
  • Be sure to give your name, address, and telephone number.
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