Update: This post was written several years ago, but it’s no less pertinent today. Read it and find out how to both protect your students and avoid your worst nightmare as an instructor. ~MM
It’s been a little over a week since one of the most well-known martial art school owners in the industry committed suicide in the midst of an apparent investigation into accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct with students. In cases like these, I tend to withhold judgement until there’s been an investigation and conviction.
But, that’s something that will never happen since the investigations have been closed.
This is unfortunate, because if the accusations are true then the victims will never have closure. And it’s also unfortunate because if the accusations are untrue, then this person’s name and reputation will never be exonerated.
In this particular instance, I have an opinion, but lacking an investigation and conviction it is only that. Accordingly, I’ll be keeping my opinions on the matter to myself.
So, rather than debase myself by gossiping about an issue that is for all intents and purposes a moot discussion at this juncture, I will instead use this as an opportunity to discuss something worthwhile. And that topic is, how to prevent your worst nightmare as a school owner.
Your Worst Nightmare: Being Falsely Accused of Sexually Inappropriate Conduct
Let’s face it, deep down you are really, really afraid of being falsely accused of sexually assaulting a student. Yes, the chances of it happening are slight, but then again so is being struck by lightning. I for one am not in the habit of going golfing during thunderstorms in order to tempt fate, nor am I going to place myself in a situation where I may be falsely accused of inappropriate behavior with a student. The consequences are simply too dire to be lax on this issue.
So then, why is it that so many martial arts instructors seem to ignore the risk of being accused of inappropriate conduct when working with students? For one, it’s because it’s such a nightmarish thing to think about that no school owner wants to consider the possibility. Second, we all want to assume that all our clients love and adore us, and that they would never want to hurt us with false and unfounded accusations.
Predators Exist, Which is Why We Have to Change Our Behaviors
Well, guess what? Not everyone is nice, normal, and mentally stable. We should already know this is true simply by virtue of the fact that there are people out there who prey on innocent children. I’ve been teaching child safety classes and sexual assault prevention classes for over 20 years, and have studied the behavior of sexual predators during that time. The depravity of the criminal mind never ceases to shock or surprise. Evil exists; accept it and you’ll be better off because forewarned is forearmed.
And because this sort of subhuman lurks among us, suspicion for this sort of behavior among martial arts instructors and other people who work with children and teens remains understandably high. I’m actually glad people are suspicious; in fact, I wish more parents were a little less trusting and a little more curious about the people they allow to supervise their children. If they were, we’d see a lot less of these horrible crimes being committed.
So, in the face of all this horror we must assume that in working with children (or the opposite sex) the very real possibility exists that someone may falsely accuse us of misconduct. And, we need to be aware of what measures we can take to prevent it from happening.
Incidentally, taking these measures also helps ensure that no one associated with your studio will have the opportunity to abuse a child. This is crucial, because really that’s what we want to prevent in the first place. Sure, being falsely accused of misconduct can wreck your business and ruin your life; however, heaven forbid that someone harms a child on your watch. You’d never forgive yourself, and that child’s life would never be the same.
An Ounce of Prevention…
With that in mind, here are a few simple tips you should implement in your studio to prevent any accusations of or opportunity for sexual misconduct with a student.
- Never be alone with a student, period. That means adult or teen students of the opposite sex as well as children. The risk is simply too great. You should always schedule private lessons when someone else is in the dojo, and always teach them in full view of all and sundry. Never go behind closed doors to help a child with their uniform, etc. That is their parent’s job. You may think it’s all innocent, but all it takes is one misunderstanding to ruin your reputation and livelihood. Don’t risk it.
- Never allow your staff members to be alone with students, unsupervised. Sure, it sounds great that you can hire someone to run your classes while you’re off on the golf course or relaxing on the beach. But the fact is, you don’t know what your employees are doing when you’re away. You can’t know. So, implement a policy that encompasses rule number one above, and also make sure that two or more employees are around to supervise kids at all times when you are away.
- Run criminal background checks on everyone who is allowed to come into contact with children in your school. This is probably the one that most of you will ignore, and it’s a shame because it’s the easiest one to do. Anyone who comes into contact with kids in your school should be asked to sign a release allowing you to run a criminal background check on them, period, end of discussion. If they refuse, don’t hire them or allow them to volunteer. And if they agree, background checks are cheap and easy to get. Just make sure you use a reliable company such as Intellius to run the check. Also, it doesn’t hurt to contact local law enforcement to check if there are any active investigations on said individuals. Incidentally, just checking the National Sex Offender Public Website is a start, but it’s not enough.
- Use surveillance cameras in all PUBLIC areas of your studio. Obviously, you shouldn’t install cameras in changing rooms and bathrooms. However, you can and you should install surveillance cameras in all the public areas of your studio, such as offices, hallways, and the training area. Any reputable security company can install them for you, and provide you with recording equipment to monitor activity in your studio 24/7/365. You can even buy cameras and install them yourself, and have them save video and images to your hard drive. Sure, it costs a bit, but the peace of mind is worth it. In fact, I know of at least one school owner who saved their reputation after being falsely accused by pulling up the video recordings from their surveillance system to show the incident in question never happened.
- Teach child safety classes in your studio. Teaching kids how to be safe who come to your studio reduces the risk of there ever being an incident on your watch. There are a ton of resources for this, so choose a reputable curriculum and run with it. I would start with The Center for Missing and Exploited Children; their resources are excellent and they do some really good work in bringing issues of the exploitation of children to light.
- Support PROTECT.org. I urge you to read the information at this link and then click on the “donate” button at the site to support their work. I’ve been supporting and promoting them for years, because I strongly believe in the work they do. Supporting them will do nothing to protect you, but it will help protect children across the nation.
Questions? Comments? Please post them below.