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Two Days in May: Forum to focus on sexual abuse in sports, Dayton shooting

5/4/2022
How a community responds to a crisis or violent tragedy reflects its humanity, defines its character and gives it hope.

This year’s Two Days in May conference will take a closer look at the response within two such communities — our national sports community, which is emerging from a reckoning about issues of sexual abuse, and the greater Dayton area, whose residents continue to deal with repercussions of a 2019 mass shooting in the popular Oregon District.

The conference for crime victim advocates, sponsored by the office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, will return to the Greater Columbus Convention Center after two years of interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was canceled last year and cut back to a two-hour virtual event in 2020.

“The work of this conference and the dedication of the people who attend it are critical to our ability as Ohioans to help Ohioans in need,” said Yost, who will offer opening remarks on May 9. “It’s great to be back. This an opportunity to take a deeper dive into issues that have profoundly impacted the state and the nation.”

Day One will focus on efforts to protect athletes from sexual abuse and ways to help those dealing with the traumatic aftereffects — a topic that permeated the public consciousness as many survivors within the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics program came forward to report abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar.

But Nassar is merely one tumor in a cancer that has spread throughout all levels of sports. Evidence of that comes from the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an independent nonprofit — authorized and funded in part by Congress. The center has exclusive jurisdiction to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movement at national, regional and local levels. This includes members of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the individual national governing bodies (NGBs) that oversee more than 50 sports, and their local and regional affiliates — a total of 11 million people across the country, including Ohio.

Chief Executive Officer Ju’Riese Col√≥n and Katie Hanna, vice president for education and public policy at the center, will deliver the keynote presentation.

In its five-year history, the Denver-based center has received more than 10,000 reports of abuse and misconduct and is seeing a steady yearly increase as word of its mission spreads — from 281 reports in 2017 to 3,708 in 2021. In addition, the center has sanctioned more than 1,200 people, nearly 300 who are now permanently ineligible from sports across the Olympic and Paralympic movement.

As a national organization focused on investigations, education and compliance, the U.S. Center for SafeSport seeks to work with a broad range of state and local partners, said Hanna, an Ohio native and a former executive director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence. This includes attorneys general, prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, victim advocates, service providers, sports organizations, coaches, athletes and parents. 

“For us, Two Days in May is an opportunity to develop relationships and build collaboration with advocates on the front lines,” she said. “We’ve put a focus on partnering. We’re still new and need to make sure people understand the scope of what we do.”

Through its website (uscenterforsafesport.org) the center maintains a database of sanctions and other disciplinary actions imposed against individuals connected with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movement. Anyone can make a report, which is not bound by a statute of limitations. In addition, as part of its compliance role, the center publishes audit reports of the governing bodies it reviews.

Although its investigative authority extends only to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movement — and not, for example, to professional, collegiate or high school athletics — the center is an educational resource for athletes, parents, coaches and organizers across all levels of amateur sports, including youth sports. More than 3 million people have taken the center’s online training.

“We know that preventing abuse is possible, and it begins with creating a culture of safety and awareness,” Hanna said. “That’s a long-term investment that we have to make together as partners, all of us working toward a common goal.”

On Day Two of the conference, attendees will turn their attention to the traumatic fallout of the Aug. 4, 2019, tragedy in Dayton’s Oregon District, where nine people were killed and 17 wounded when Connor Betts opened fire outside Ned Peppers Bar. The 24-year-old was shot and killed by police soon after the attack began.

“We see people who have been touched by the shooting even to this day,” said Bonnie Parish, executive director of Family Services, a Dayton social services agency that operates a trauma recovery center. “There’s no time frame on post-traumatic stress disorder or dealing with trauma.”

Parish will join colleagues Stephen Massey and Sandy Hunt for the keynote presentation to discuss the importance of collaborations in providing meaningful services to a community dealing with tragedy.
Massey directs CitiLookout Trauma Recovery Center in Springfield and serves on several boards and commissions for the state of Ohio. Hunt directs the Victim/Witness Division in the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office.

Massey said the Dayton shooting, which occurred one day after 23 people were gunned down in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, has left an enduring emotional toll.

“A lot people are facing social fears and anxiety as a result of these events,” he said. “It’s the world we live in now. Even for people who weren’t in the Oregon District, or associated with it, there’s a segment of them who have been affected. Their senses are heightened, and they don’t move through the community as they once did because they feel unsafe. As counselors and advocates, we need to meet these people where they’re at.”

Immediately after the Oregon District shooting, the Crime Victim Services Section of the Attorney General’s Office helped to bring various organizations and agencies together to address the needs of the community, including its mental health needs. Parish and Massey and their organizations were at the forefront and have remained there in the years since to provide counseling and advocacy services.
The trauma recovery centers (TRCs) that their organizations run — CitiLookout was among the first in the state; Family Services is currently developing its TRC — provide a bridge to services for victims, especially those in underserved, vulnerable communities whose residents might have trouble accessing services or might not even know they exist.

In 2016, under then-Attorney General Mike DeWine, Ohio became the second state in the nation to establish and support a TRC network. Currently, Ohio has eight of the 39 TRCs in the U.S. that are recognized by the National Alliance of Trauma Care Recovery Centers.

Law enforcement, Massey said, has always been a key ally in their work.

“First of all, they want justice for the victims,” he said. “And they collaborate with us on what victims need. Without them, a significant part of the recovery process is missing. And because they’re such good partners, we’ve been able to bridge the gap with victims who may have issues trusting law enforcement.”

Collaboration across the full spectrum — government agencies, service providers and law enforcement —  is essential, said Parish, a licensed social worker with decades of experience.

“And not collaboration after the fact, but before it,” she said. “You can’t just wait for collaboration to happen.”

Because of relationships she had developed, Parish knew where to turn for help in organizing support services after the Oregon District tragedy. Hunt was among the first she contacted.

“Sandy was somebody I knew because we had done work with the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office,” Parish said. “So when the shooting happened, I knew I wanted her at the table. She was the glue that held us together. And that all came about because of the relationship we had.”