We spoke with Meg Stone, Executive Director of IMPACT, a Boston-based nonprofit “devoted to giving people the practical skills to interrupt and prevent abuse, violence, and harassment.” Stone told us the organization does “everything from empowerment and self-defense to organizational policies and training coaches, teachers and other direct service staff to intervene when they see a questionable or potentially abusive behavior.”
In 2018, IMPACT was awarded a RALIANCE Grant to support their Adaptive Sports Abuse Prevention (ASAP) curriculum. Adaptive sports are competitive or recreational programs that have modifications to rules and/or equipment to make them accessible to people with disabilities, as Stone explains.
RALIANCE: Can you tell us a little bit about what your organization does and who you serve?
Stone: We serve anyone who wants to learn skills to keep themselves or others safer. Our program focuses on communities that face disproportionate risk of abuse and violence. We have specific programs for people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ communities, women of color, direct service workers, people in different human service capacities, teen girls and gender expansive teens. We also have an initiative with the New England Performing Arts Community called LINE DRAWN that is dedicated to developing sector-wide prevention practices across all performing arts organizations.
RALIANCE: What are some of the effective strategies and tools to prevent sexual abuse in adaptive sports organizations?
Stone: One of the most effective strategies we’ve found is to make sure the prevention strategies are relevant to the culture and practices of adaptive sports. Our first step when we got the RALIANCE grant was conducting focus groups with adaptive sports athletes and coaches, and we used their feedback to inform our work.
There’s often more touch needed and more touch than is typically appropriate when working with disabled athletes, so any prevention strategy would have to take a nuanced approach to defining appropriate touch. In addition, we found that adaptive sports are often not “just” an activity for athletes; it’s a community, a close social network, even a chosen family. So we did not want to implement abuse prevention practices that would take away from all of the benefits people get from close-knit relationships. Instead, we had to help people build the skills to critically examine these types of interactions to assess whether they were safe, positive, and consensual.
In the Adaptive Sports Abuse Prevention (ASAP) curriculum, we study news stories about abusive incidents, and we look at the line-crossing, boundary-eroding events that led up to overt abuse. We help coaches find ways to recognize and interrupt those line crossings before they escalate. We’re not just looking at people who directly abused, but everyone around them. There are typically 10 or 20 people who don’t intervene, don’t feel like they can say anything, or want to give someone who is abusive benefit of the doubt. We use the news stories as a jumping off point for really important conversations about how to challenge someone we love or respect when we see them crossing a line. From this these types of discussions, the coaches, leaders and other program staff develop the skill set to engage in the kinds of conversations and policy and practice changes that make their organization safer.
RALIANCE: We know that you received the grant in 2018. Can you tell us about the specific efforts that the grant itself supported?
Stone: The grant supported the development, testing and initial evaluation of the ASAP curriculum. We assembled a team that included a rape crisis counselor who was also a sports coach, a former Division 1 wheelchair basketball athlete, and several other local collaborators. With expertise both in adaptive sports and sexual abuse prevention, we developed a 5-session curriculum that is designed to be the trainer model, and we then implemented very first trainer.
We have been training since 2018, with the exception of 2020 and the first half of 2021 because of COVID. We’ve gotten grants from two prominent disability funders – the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation to support train-the-trainer conferences.
RALIANCE: Can you tell us a little bit about the ASAP Curriculum?
Stone: We heard loud and clear from our focus groups that people did not want slides and lectures. The curriculum is all interactive activities and discussions.
There are 5 sessions to the curriculum. The first is called “Why we’re here,” which is focused on the crisis of sexual abuse and sport and the invisibility of athletes with disabilities. The second session is called “Where’s the line?” which is all about helping people find that line between what is safe and what is not – a lot of the best work with disabled athletes is about individualizing it and meeting people’s unique needs. At the same time, we don’t want to individualize to the point where somebody who’s at risk to perpetrate can just isolate one athlete or cross boundaries around touch or personal sharing. It really helps coaches and leaders identify what that line is when it’s not so clear. The third session is called “challenging conversations” and it teaches people the skills to initiate conversations when they see behaviors that are potentially unsafe. The fourth session is called “Touch,” and the final session is called “If an athlete reports,” in which we encourage the coaches to either collaborate with their local rape crisis center to get information about how to make referrals, but also talk to their local rape crisis center about the work that they have done to be accessible to survivors with disabilities.
RALIANCE: What are examples of the supportive spaces that you offer?
Stone: IMPACT offers supportive spaces in a couple of different contexts. We are committed to creating accessible and trauma informed spaces for people to learn the skills to protect and advocate for themselves and also to heal from past trauma. We strive to create spaces that help people find the power of their bodies and their voices and affirm people’s choice about what type of challenges they do and don’t want to take on.
The other type of supportive space we offer is to organization leaders and organization staff. We want them to have a space for brave, candid and vulnerable conversations about what they can do to either prevent abuse or address harms that have happened in their organization.
RALIANCE provides consulting, assessment, and employee development services to help build more equitable workplace cultures and create environments free from sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse. We stand ready to support your organization’s goals – contact us today at [email protected] to get started.