It started with a single news story. At an editorial meeting, Josh Keim, a former staff writer, mentioned a report about a child molester caught at a pool. I told him to make it a news brief and asked him to hold it for the next issue. I warned him that such stories can easily be sensationalized and that we should make every effort to avoid that. After all, it was probably a rare incident.
Only it wasn’t.
Josh started watching for reports of sex offenders at aquatics facilities in the news, and we quickly realized this was a problem that needed attention.
Between May 2005 and August 2006, he tracked more than 30 sex crimes at pools or waterparks nationwide. Then we did a survey and discovered the problem was even more widespread than those reports would suggest. The results of that survey and our yearlong investigation are in this issue. It’s a report every aquatics professional needs to read.
Then they need to talk about it with their staffs and each other. They need to talk about it with parents and guardians. And they need to keep talking about it until everyone starts to feel comfortable with it.
Aquatics certification agencies also should get on board and start educating industry professionals about sex offenders and how to recognize and deal with them at facilities.
This does not mean that lifeguards need to become police. But they do need to become witnesses. They do need to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior, and feel comfortable reporting such behavior to their managers. They need to start thinking about lifesaving outside the realm of drowning.
But they won’t unless the entire industry starts talking about it.
One of the main reasons predators are able to strike is that they are allowed a cloak of anonymity. They are allowed that anonymity because most people would rather not think that the nice young man playing with the children could be up to anything sinister. Because most parents and aquatics professionals would rather not talk about sex offenders at all.
Editors are no exception. In this issue, we happen to be running a news brief about a lifeguard charged with sex crimes. He was arrested on suspicion of sexual penetration with a foreign object. The copy editor wrote me a note about it: “Do we really need to be so graphic?”
Yes, we do.
Now that we know sexual predators are at our facilities, professionals have an obligation not only to talk openly about this squeamish subject, but also to make others talk about it, too. In so doing, it is my hope that talk will turn into action, action that could well save another child from being victimized and wounded for life.