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

Part of this is making sure that all mentors are on the same page when it comes to conduct. FIRST’s YPP guidelines are a good start, but they are certainly not enough. I highly encourage teams to have their own Mentor Code of Conduct - rules, guidelines, whatever you want to call it - that’s public and visible to others. Even if you’re a school team, setting expectations for mentorship (and the various processes of reporting issues) inside your organization makes a difference.

Mentor culture is important. One of my goals each year in starting the school year is making sure the students know what ‘a good mentor’ looks like -one who follows our team’s code of conduct. I want to make sure they understand all adults on our team are primarily there for safety and support, and who to go to if they feel uncomfortable in a mentor interaction.

Editing to add - @Michael_Corsetto thank you for the reminder! We’ll be posting ours as well in the near future (once I get it cleaned up for some 2021+ changes.) I know how our student handbook has helped others, so maybe the mentor one will too :slight_smile:

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I absolutely do not want to dismiss what happened to the student in the article, but I also want to bring up a few points that I think might be more relevant to a community that mostly is/works with high schoolers.

- Sexual predation does not only occur with young children / a large age gap, a power dynamic (e.g. between a mentor and their student) can be equally bad

- “Waiting for someone to be legal” is not a solution (especially where the above applies). Joking about it is also disgusting, and how it’s been normalized in some FRC circles needs to stop.

- It doesn’t matter if they’re 18, if the age of consent in your state is 16, etc. – if you are a mentor/volunteer, you are the adult in the situation and need to say no.

- The lack of open discussion on this topic has allowed predators that are known, investigated by YPP, and banned from FIRST to continue to join FIRST-related servers, start vendors, and continue to interact with students, due to a lack of knowledge from the larger community. I’m not suggesting to publicly air every accusation, but we need to do better for our students.

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On this note, folks are welcome to review and utilize any content from Citrus Circuits’ recently released Mentor Handbook. One element we’ve added recently is a formalized on-boarding process, which includes various safety checks and trainings required by FIRST, our district and/or the team itself.

I’ve always believed that adults donating their time to youth, in a professional and relatively unique way, is FRC’s “secret sauce”. This valuable component of the program must take place within the bounds of a healthy and robust safety policy. I echo the encouragement for all teams to put formal mentor guidelines in place.

Citrus Circuits also hosts an all-team safety meeting each fall, where students, mentors and parents attend to learn about how we keep the team, especially students, safe. As a part of the meeting, we review the FIRST YPP Guide: https://www.firstinspires.org/sites/default/files/uploads/about/FIRST-YPP-ProgramGuide.pdf

Best,

-Mike

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A few random thoughts
Background checks are important. BUT The First background check is a simple database search. It only weeds out the ones that have been caught. A depressingly small number.

Because of First’s size and it spanning multiple governing bodies… First has a YPP policy. It cannot be the first line of defense. Teams have to take the lead in enforcing YPP and go beyond policy and take actions that keeps people safe.

Sexual predators are attracted to youth serving programs. Fact of life and isn’t going to change. For the most part sexual predators look like everybody else. They are really good at hiding their actions.“Grooming” starts with actions that are seemly “explainable” Which means we all have to be vigilant without being hyper paranoid.

One of the best defenses is having a culture where the victims are not made the villain and comfortable coming forward when issue arise.

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YPP enforcement and the variations on the buddy system are good tools and all, but I think it’s important to also talk about the dynamics that might lead to things getting covered up, even when people get caught. For example, a team where their main sponsors or school may see something like this an excuse to shut them down permanently is not going to want to say anything if something of this nature happened within.

Now, I strongly believe that if a team cannot guarantee such a basic safety to its students, regardless of prestige, blue banners, or community impact, it cannot safely operate, but this is just one example of how this sort of thing can happen but then have it hushed away. Perhaps mentors and coaches should also tell students that their own safety is more important than the team?

edit: now this is just one example of an outcome, but there are plenty of other reasons, some of which are larger cultural issues. But this might be a case that we, the FIRST community, can do more about.

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Our team has a mandatory annual YPP presentation, for students, parents, and mentors. This way everyone is aware of FIRST YPP policies and the specific add on policies our team has added. This does not count as YPP training for mentors, they must still complete that with FIRST. YPP protects everyone, not just students. YPP also covers more than inappropriate sexual behavior/sexual assault.

In addition to creating an environment that makes it difficult for inappropriate behavior to exist, it also provides an adult to report any violations. Asking a child to come forward to report inappropriate behavior by an adult is really tough for them. I know of a parent in another youth program where the adult was arrested for sexually assaulting multiple children. When the dad asked their child if anything happened, they replied “No”. But when the child was interviewed by police they told the police what happened.

Does it make it harder to do somethings, sure. Has it stopped us from being able to do them, no.

Many of the steps that can be taken to protect against false accusations also help protect children from being abused. When abuse happens and those steps are followed, there will be witnesses to help prosecute the perpetrators. Or the procedures are violated and discovered, and at a minimum the violator is shown the door.

Otherwise the situation is two individuals disagreeing with one another over what happened. And that means the worst of all possible outcomes will occur.

How best do you support victims? A good start is to make sure we aren’t allowing more victims.

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That was not my intent at all. False accusations are far rarer than actual cases, but I think we can be supportive without straying into comments that potentially could lead to a defamation lawsuit (typical cost to defend, even if you win: $15,000).

Instead of focusing on this particular case, we should be thinking about what systemic changes can FIRST make to make future cases much less likely to occur. For the kids, the mentors, and for FIRST itself. Case in point: it is unclear if the “Boy Scouts” will survive their situation (and they have far deeper pockets than FIRST). So, failing to effectively deal with this can not only hurt the original victims, but (to a lessor degree, of course) potentially every other child who could be denied this opportunity.

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fixed my own post

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I don’t think anyone would argue that these priorities do not overlap. But where you center the discussion matters. The steps that we take should be to prevent predators from having the access they need and defending the students from them. That should be the focus, first and foremost. Then along with that comes the defenses against false accusations as those without the ability to breach trust cannot breach trust.

Just like defensive driving, defensive mentoring defends yourself. Making sure all mentors practice defensive mentoring defends everyone. But the reason we do it is foremost to protect the students, not ourselves.

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The reason we do it is to protect the students. But I know I would never harm a student. So I need a better reason to subject myself to extra burdens.
The reason I do it is to protect myself.

[anybody can insert their own self for I… ]
These policies only work when we properly adhere to them. Any motivation we can use to get everyone on board is fine with me.

Cool guineapig facts: it’s way easier for CD to just repeat the same lines about 2 mentors to 1 student et cetera rather than talk about how FIRST’s culture promotes silence on abusers, and while I emphasize and understand why that is, we don’t need another 30 posts discussing it, especially after Corsetto’s own post. We need to have that other conversation too, whether we like it or not.

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FWIW I read your comment on my reply as you intended.

I’ve definitely been in multiple spaces where even mentioning a former mentor banned for YPP (who ran a small supplier) was prohibited because it reflected poorly on the team that they were previously involved with

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Not sure why you’re replying with a meme, his post is stating that while some restrictions on communications and meetings might seem like a burden or inconvenience, they are mechanisms to shield both students and mentors from bad situations. In the views of many adults, they don’t see themselves as threats, and psychologically it can be hard to accept an inconvenience because of that. In his mind he knows that restrictions on meeting and communicating with a student 1:1 are there for both of them though. He isn’t saying that protection of the child from the adult is any less important.

Please don’t reply to issues in this thread with memes. It is a bit insulting to the topic.

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Yeah it was a bad decision on my part, the post in question is now deleted. Thanks for bringing it up to my attention, I will do better next time.

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I don’t really understand this line of thinking. Is making your students more comfortable not enough of an impetus to have the slight burden of not being alone with a student?

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These are not cool guinea pig facts.

Cool guinea pig facts would be good ways we help build programs that don’t place burdens on victims. Mfd facts would be good ways we can align believing accusers with the concept of innocent until proven guilty in a way that doesn’t start with the victim is lying as the base assumption. But these are hard problems and idk that we have a solution. :confused:

And just so folks don’t feel bummed out - guinea pigs have 4 toes on their front feet and only 3 on their back ones.

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I is in italics because hypothetically it is any one of us.
That isn’t my position. But if it’s enough to convince anyone else to abide by the policies, even being selfish is good enough reason for me.

The flip side of this - if you or anyone else find individuals violating the policies, we need to address it immediately. The policies only work when every abides by them. Not doing so enables abuse.

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Fair points, but I do think it’s valuable to understand how these things happen so we know how to address them better, and to see where the current approaches break down.

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