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Nassau targets sex abuse in youth sports

Former Olympian Katherine Starr and County Executive Edward

Former Olympian Katherine Starr and County Executive Edward Mangano announce an educational symposium entitled "Recognizing and Preventing Sexual Abuse in Youth Sports." (April 17, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano Tuesday announced an effort to prevent sexual abuse in youth sports.

"In light of the recent scandals that have shocked the nation, it is imperative that we . . . have structure in place such as leadership policies and practical skills in youth-oriented activities to prevent and address abuse, and to ensure everyone knows what to do to keep our children safe," Mangano said at a news conference outside his office in Mineola.

Tuesday, Mangano opened a symposium aimed at youth coaches, trainers, athletic directors and school superintendents. The effort came several months after the Penn State scandal, in which former football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky has been accused of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years at the university's summer camps. Sandusky has denied the charges. The case led to the dismissal of famed coach Joe Paterno, who was fired in November and died in January.

The gathering was sponsored by the county, the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System's Cohen Children's Medical Center and the Nassau County Sports Commission, a nonprofit that works for a healthy sports environment for youth and is sponsored by Briarcliffe College in Bethpage.

One of the symposium speakers, former British Olympic swimmer Katherine Starr, said at the news conference that she had been raped by her coach at age 14. She later founded Safe4Athletes, a nonprofit group that helps sports organizations develop policies to prevent inappropriate behavior by coaches, volunteers and others. The group, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., also maintains a list of coaches banned for sexual misconduct.

Starr said the rape "devastated my life, caused a lot of pain. I can't see another child who has a dream, a gift, suffer at the hands of a coach. We would like to have an advocate for every athlete in every sports program so that the athlete has a voice."

Pediatrician Jamie Hoffman-Rosenfeld of the Cohen Center and Hoffman-Rosenfeld, chief of Child Advocacy and Protection Services at Cohen, said child victims are "usually abused by people thought of as protecting them." She said that if parents and teachers talk openly to children about the issue, children will be better able to protect themselves and more likely to disclose abuse if it occurs.

Former first baseman Ed Kranepool, 67, who played with the New York Mets from 1962-79, also was scheduled to speak at the symposium. "Unfortunately, a few bad apples spoil it for too many good people because almost all coaches are really good people dedicated to helping youth," he said in an interview.

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