School teachers, day care providers, staff in places of worship and many other groups of professionals who work with children are legally required to report suspicion of child abuse and neglect to the proper authorities. However, in most states, health club operators and staff who work with children are not considered mandatory reporters. That is something that Brian Perkins, partner with Meyers & Flowers LLC, Chicago, says may change in his state.
Perkins is working with others to change Illinois law so that gyms that have programs in which staff work one-on-one with children are considered mandatory reporters under the Department of Children and Family Services, he says.
Because more clubs are offering programs for children—in particular, programs in which children are working one-on-one with trainers—trainers are more likely to spot if the child is abused. However, this growth in one-on-one training also means that trainers who are child predators have a greater opportunity to abuse children in these situations, especially because some of the sports-specific training occurs early in the morning and off the premises of the club when no one else is around.
“One of the biggest issues is that state laws have not all caught up to where they should be at this time,” Perkins says. “Unfortunately, the world we live in is not as safe as the world we grew up in. The biggest change for these child predators is the Internet. It allows them to connect with other predators. It drives them and challenges them to try things they might otherwise not have had the courage to do.”
Perkins is the attorney for a man who claims that a former Life Time Fitness trainer sexually abused him when the man was a teenager. The man is suing both Life Time Fitness and the former trainer. Life Time has declined in the past to comment specifically on the case, other than to say it was surprised by the allegations and has cooperated with authorities on their investigation.
Perkins says that even if the health club mandatory reporter law is never passed, club operators should set an internal policy in which all staff members, from the CEO to the cleaning staff, are mandatory reporters. That means that staff must report suspicious behavior to the human resources department or the general manager rather than ignoring suspicions or investigating on their own, Perkins says.
“In our case, there were people who worked there (at Life Time Fitness) who said, ‘I always thought there was something funny about that,’” Perkins says. “I don’t know how many I spoke to who said something like that.”
What do you think about making fitness facility operators who have one-on-one programs for children become mandatory reporters?