Reminder: Sexual predation happens in FIRST, and it's on all of us to stop it

I’m really sad to share that another incident of sexually predatory behavior in FIRST has been uncovered. My heart goes out to the victim and I find it worrying that it’s been three days since the article was published and it hasn’t even shown up as a blip on this communities radar.

It is on EVERY ONE of us to keep this community safe by knowing what the warning signs look like. FIRST has good resources for teaching this stuff on their Youth Protection Program resource page, but it only helps if people take the time to go through it.

We need to remember that silence is complicit. By taking ownership of these incidents and refusing to pretend they didn’t happen, we can create a FIRST community where abuse victims feel that reporting assault will actually get them the help they deserve and prevent others from getting hurt. That means we need to #MakeItLOUD in our support for the victims and our condemnation of this behavior.

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This thread got off of its original topic with incredible speed. And it is a dead serious topic.

I’m setting it to auto-unlock in the morning, at which point I hope any further posts are on the original topic. Please don’t make us moderate further.

This topic was automatically opened after 10 hours.

To recap:

All the previous replies in this thread were removed, too much fruit from the poisoned tree. If you got caught in the crossfire, I’m sorry.

Please be thoughtful before sharing any anecdotes. Anything that could remotely be considered doxxing, victim-blaming, or victim-shaming is sure to get flagged off and will likely be met with more consequences.

Let’s keep this on the original topic, and on good practices.

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Joel,

Thank you for bringing this to the attention of the larger FIRST community. It is up to each and every one of us to not only educate mentors and parents, but also students about what to do when predatory behavior and sexual assault occurs. Each team should obviously be running background checks on mentors, but we should also be doing everything possible to prevent these situations in the first place. As Andrew stated above, processes and rules for communication must be effected, and training to spot predatory behavior would be ideal. This goes for mentors and students.

I’m disgusted reading this. I always hope that people who volunteer in this community would be better than this, but it just goes to show that nobody is what they appear to be just because they act as a volunteer.

I’ve been 100% more aware of mentor behaviors, volunteer behaviors, and student to student interactions ever since I started mentoring, especially after mentoring an all girls team. However, this is a good time to remind everyone that predatory behavior comes in many ages, shapes, genders, sexual orientations, positions of power, etc. Stay vigilant and remember that people who might jokingly comment on news articles of female teachers having relationships with male students are perpetuating the same disgusting behaviors towards women and girls. Fight against those who think straight men in positions on authority are the only ones who can act in these disgusting ways. Pay attention to little comments mentors make, and call them out immediately when anything sounds inappropriate. Take action and get rid of those mentors.

I sincerely wish the victim of this crime, and others like them, the best in life and eventual recovery. I can’t begin to imagine what this child and their family must be going through right now.

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Thank you Billfred for the effective moderation.

Akash, you’re absolutely right about the potential for sexual predation to occur in all the forms we don’t stereotypically expect. It’s also worth noting that these types of issues often are made worse when people suffer “It would never happen here-itus.” Of the three incidents I’ve witnessed (I know, small sample size), two took place in programs at private schools serving an affluent population. This can happen anywhere.

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This point is the most important note in @Joel_Hurd’s important, if uncomfortable, post.

You must be the one to speak. Victims and witnesses may not (and often do not) speak up.

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Thanks for starting this thread and bringing up the discussion on this difficult topic, Joel.

The links you posted for YPP resources and warning signs are great, valuable resources for all mentors and parents.

This is a good time to remind all mentors to practice 2-deep mentoring. Whenever mentors are with students, be sure there are at least 2 mentors present. This removes the chance for abusive situations toward students, and the perception of the opportunity of something bad happening. 2-deep mentoring protects both the students and the mentors.

Regarding how this 2-deep practice can protect mentors, here is a story from almost 20 years ago.

A fellow mentor on our robotics team asked me what I thought of him helping a student transport the team’s robot to the student’s senior picture shoot (unique senior pictures are a thing in Indiana).

The student worked with the mentor during the season on our Chairman’s Award project, and they had a good, productive mentor-student relationship. The mentor had a truck, so the student asked the mentor if they could get the robot and drive it out to the picture shoot (some local park) together.

So I repeat this back to the mentor:

“You’re asking me if it’s ok to get in your truck with this student, drive to the shop, get the robot, drive out to the park, drive back to the shop and drop off the robot. What would happen if that student was having a tough day or some unstable thoughts and decided to create a lie to try to get you in trouble? Or maybe the parent of this student (who we really didn’t know) wanted to create a lie? You could potentially lose your job and your family.”

I do remember seeing a cool senior picture of the student with a robot and some awards. Obviously, the mentor didn’t make this trip to support the student alone.

Andy B.

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As a teacher-mentor, and the only person allowed to be on campus with students currently (no non-staff adults due to COVID restrictions), I am very aware of the situation I am putting myself in. The team only meets outdoors, in a courtyard, near a school camera, and during hours that other staff and supervision are milling about. This is as much for student safety and piece of mind as it is for my own.

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One note I’ll make since most of the conversation so far has revolved around mentors’ experiences: sexual abuse is deadly serious. It’s not just uncomfortable or humiliating; it can utterly shred its victims’ mental health and turn their lives upside down in a way that is nearly incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t gone through it personally or known someone who has. It can be a major component in leading people to suicide, which is an under-discussed epidemic among adolescents and teens.

If you care at all about the ideals of FIRST to promote the betterment of young people, you’ll realize this is more important than anything else you do in the program.

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FIRST requires background checks for the two lead mentors of every team in every program (at least in the USA), but does not for the other mentors, so that is on each individual team to ensure. Even then, the background checks only filter out those who have already been caught committing a crime and so I 100% agree that vigilance and training to spot predatory behavior is absolutely needed. I had one set of training that did this, recently, out of three I took in the last 6 months for different organizations. And I’m also aware of an individual who everyone knew as a “good guy” running a youth organization who turned out to have some serious issues. Sadly, it can happen anywhere.

We call this the rule of 3 - either 2 mentors, 1 student or 2 students, 1 mentor. Either case, this is a very effective method

Also, +1 on not having private chats. Although annoying at times - especially for online robotics - it is very good strategy. We use Remind and Google Classroom almost exclusively

In education (and most things) it’s not what it is, it’s what it looks like. A mentor having private chats with students looks really bad, even if it is just getting updates or answering questions.

I don’t know who is right in the U of M case, but this could’ve been prevented

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With students around - never, ever less than 2 mentors. Ever.

For teams that are affiliated with 4-H I believe 4-H requires it of all mentors.

I think its not wise to turn this into a conversation regarding false claims of abuse and focus on the actual incidents of abuse/assault that are occurring. Despite being a problem, false accusations are vastly a part of the minority when it comes to all sexual assault allegations. I think this conversation would be better if we focused on how the FIRST community can work to prevent issues like what OP talked about from happening again.

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And building a culture that encourages sexual assault victims to report the crime.

While I’m a large fan of the presumption of innocence this is an area where there is a culture of skepticism and victim blaming and even one in which sometimes a victim blames themselves. (Ie I shouldn’t have been walking alone, or, I shouldn’t have been dressed that way”)

Suffice to say my real thoughts on this would get caught by the profanity filter, and idk if I wanna get suspended again.

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It’s unfortunate, I think, that these conversations often become about what should be done to protect against false accusations of sexual assault rather than how to support victims. Studies show that fewer than 10% of examined cases of sexual assault can be categorized as false reports. By comparison, >60% go unreported.

Perhaps, then, a more fruitful discussion would be about what mentors can do to communicate to students that they are a safe, dependable resource that will take sexual assault allegations seriously.

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Crimes occur when someone who is prepared to commit a crime finds an opportunity. Background checks help screen out some people who have shown they were prepared to commit a crime but can never be 100%. Creating an environment that does not present opportunities is not difficult to achieve so there is no excuse for not doing so. The “rule of 3” was SOP for the season I mentored team from a private all-girls school and once everyone was aware of the policy, it tended to “happen naturally”.

Given how many teams are associated with schools, I see this as likely an issue intertwined with how the schools handle these sort of things, especially when the mentors are also school faculty.

Unfortunately, some of the anecdotes I have heard from people in FRC I know have been less than hopeful about this, and ultimately they end up not just fighting a team, but a whole district.

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:100: :100: This rule (rule of 3 / 2 deep leadership) prevents 99% of “opportunities”. It protects students from abuse, and protects mentors from false accusations. If I recall, boy scouts leadership training actually requires leaders to take a brief class with an exam on this concept.

I think FIRST would benefit greatly from formalizing this rule and implementing a similar online orientation process for mentors to accompany the background check.

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