SPOKANE, Wash. - As the disgraced Team USA doctor was sentenced for sex abuse crimes he committed against women and children, many parents may be wondering how they can keep their children safe against these kinds of predators.
For decades, Larry Nassar used his power as a doctor to sexually abuse girl patients. During seven day sentencing hearing, 163 athletes told their stories of betrayal and abuse. The total number of Nassar's victims is unknown.
Some athletes also had harsh words for the institutions, like USA Gymnastics, which they say allowed these crimes to happen.
"If over these many years, just one adult listened and had the courage and character to act, this tragedy could have been avoided," said Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman.
Experts who deal with the sexual abuse of children say believing children is the most important thing you can do.
"When they talk about it, usually it's something that is really difficult to talk about, and when they talk about it, they want to be believed and that's where the parents come in to believe them," said Dan Fox, a mental health clinician with Lutheran Community Services.
So, who can be trusted and how can you know your kids are safe?
Many organizations rely on background checks, but Nadine Burgess, the owner of Spokane Gymnastics, says that's not enough to protect kids.
"There's certain procedures that we're just non-negotiable on. We never have any adults or coaches be alone with the athletes. Everything's out in the open," she said.
That kind of openness is also important for parents when communicating with their kids. You can never be 100% sure that your child won't be a victim of sexual abuse. But, you can work to make sure they feel comfortable coming to you and telling you if they are.
"Being able to talk about everything all the time will help that person be able to come to you and say 'hey I was touched, and I didn't like it,'" Fox said.
You can also look for the warning signs that your child might be the victim of sexual abuse. Look for changes in their behavior. They may be withdrawing from you, start having nightmares or even self harming. Fox says one of the telltale signs that a child is being abused is they have knowledge about sex that is beyond what they should know at that age.
Parents also need to educate kids about boundaries and what's appropriate behavior with an adult.
Sexual abuse is a crime that can destroy lives. The pain and trauma a victim feels may never go away.
"If you're sexually assaulting somebody, stop. And if you're thinking of sexually assaulting somebody, don't. The effects last for years and they're overwhelmingly difficult for young people to deal with," said Fox.
If you would like more tips on how to keep your kids safe from sexual abuse, click here.
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