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Key Findings From an External Review of USA Fencing’s Abuse Prevention Measures

10/14/2022, 9:15am CDT
By Bryan Wendell

An outside firm’s review both affirmed that our current systems of preventing abuse are working and identified opportunities for improvement. Here’s how we’re addressing those recommendations right away.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — An external review of USA Fencing’s policies and procedures for preventing abuse within our sport resulted in a report that both recognizes the effectiveness of our current systems and identifies opportunities for improvement.

Earlier this year, USA Fencing retained the Texas-based firm Praesidium to conduct a Management Systems Review as part of our goal of becoming the leading national governing body in the Olympic & Paralympic movement with regards to a culture of athlete safety.

After reviewing our policies and written materials, interviewing key stakeholders, and conducting onsite observations, Praesidium delivered a report of its findings. That report was focused on five key areas:

  • Policies

  • Screening

  • Training

  • Internal Feedback Systems

  • Responding

Let’s dive into each of those for a closer look. 


Why it matters: Written policies set the stage for safe environments and deliver clear expectations to members.

Assessment of USA Fencing: “Praesidium found that USA Fencing has a variety of policies in place for their programs and events that are designed to help coaches, Club owners, and USA Fencing staff run effective programming that prioritizes youth safety.”

Praesidium also noted the presence of “multiple displays set up throughout the Summer Nationals event where people could take different athlete safety policy handouts to read, in addition to large signs that communicated the commitment to youth safety and zero tolerance for abuse at the event.” 

Suggestions for improvement:

  • Consider making the U.S. Center for SafeSport Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policies (MAAPP) compliance training sessions mandatory for coaches and club owners to ensure they understand what policies must be implemented at the club-level and/or what policies are specific to USA Fencing events and are recommended but not required at the Club-level.

    • USA Fencing’s plan: In addition to required SafeSport Trainings, we have shared with all coaches and club owners the MAAPP policy electronically through our monthly newsletter. We are in the process of developing educational tools specifically tailored to implementation of MAAPP Policies for our coaches, club owners and division leaders.


Why it matters: The first barrier to abuse within fencing is to carefully screen anyone who has access to youth within our sport. 

Assessment of USA Fencing: Praesidium found that “USA Fencing complies with the USOPC background screening requirements,” “uses screening vendor NCSI to complete these comprehensive background checks on its members” and uses “a central tracking system, Design Sensory, that allows USA Fencing to track member compliance with background screening and training requirements.” 

Suggestions for improvement

  • Develop and provide USA Fencing members with screening and selection best practice resources (application, behavior-based interview questions and reference check forms) designed to screen for the potential to abuse. 

    • USA Fencing’s plan: USA Fencing already requires all coaches that work for a USA Fencing Member Club to have a valid background screen. Along with our education to coaches, clubs, and division leaders on implementation of MAAPP Policies, we are developing a "Best Practices & Toolkit" tip sheet. Our annual SafeSport training also includes information on red flags and things to look out for.

  • Consider adding a way for USA Fencing members to report (potentially through Design Sensory) their full list of employees so that all employees working at a member club, or working with a member coach, are tracked and abide by all FenceSafe and USOPC screening requirements.

    • We are working with Design Sensory (our membership database software system) to determine if there is a more user friendly way for clubs to communicate staffing updates with the USA Fencing offices.


Why it matters: Training tells our community that we care about preventing abuse within fencing, and it tells potential abusers that “abuse will not go undetected in USA Fencing.”

Assessment of USA Fencing: Praesidium found that USA Fencing “has a training delivery system that ensures abuse prevention training is available, completed and documented” and “requires all employees with access to youth to complete abuse prevention training before working with youth.” 

Suggestions for improvement

  • Ensure required abuse prevention training contains information about preventing youth-to-youth abuse and sexual activity.

    • USA Fencing’s plan: We are developing a robust minor athlete education program that will consist of in-person and live Zoom education sessions facilitated by an individual with experience in the space of sexual misconduct or a similar field. We also recently added a requirement for all coaches and staff working at national events to complete required Sexual Harassment Training, which is in addition to SafeSport training.

  • Consider additional opportunities to provide youth and parent education sessions and track feedback from sessions that could be used to inform policies and procedures.

    • USA Fencing’s plan: We have shared youth and parent education opportunities through SafeSport in our monthly newsletters and will continue to promote our new youth education programing. We are planning to gather feedback through an annual membership survey which is expected to go out in the new year.

  • Continue developing the coach education program and create achievable deliverables and deadlines for completion and implementation.

    • USA Fencing’s plan: For the start of the 2023-24 season we are anticipating the implementation of a "Certified SafeSport Club" designation in which clubs can earn higher recognition with SafeSport compliance for completing a number of additional trainings/educational opportunities. For example, all parents of a club would have to complete training, coaches would have to complete additional training, youth education offerings, and requirement to have notices posted in their facilities, etc.

Internal Feedback Systems

Why it matters: Data analysis ensures that high-risk activities or individuals can be identified. In addition, multiple easy-to-use reporting systems ensure that anyone can file a report whenever and wherever they want.

Assessment of USA Fencing: In interviews, parents told Praesidium that the reporting options were “helpful and simplified” and that reporting could be completed easily via smartphone.

Suggestions for improvement

  • Collect and compile information from all sources of complaints, allegations, and incident reports in ways that allows USA Fencing to monitor compliance against internal program quality standards, formally analyze trends over time, and identify individuals, programs, and/or activities that appear to have increased challenges or need additional attention. Utilize this data to update USA Fencing policies and procedures to reflect current incident reporting and responding protocols.

    • USA Fencing’s plan: We have developed an all-encompassing tracking system internally to maintain a better understanding of the complaints and allegations that are submitted to us, where they are in the review process, and what the outcomes were. We now house violations of SafeSport Code, USA Fencing Policy and Black Card policy as well as background screen red flags in one place so as to best analyze trends and identify areas that could use focus.


Why it matters: How an organization responds to suspicious or inappropriate behaviors and incidents, or allegations of abuse, can either minimize or exacerbate the effects to the individuals involved. By developing a thorough incident investigation and follow-up process prior to an incident, organizations can manage their risks much more effectively.

Assessment of USA Fencing: Praesidium found that “USA Fencing staff, as well as coaches, club owners, and parents, are deeply committed to following all legal requirements for reporting and responding to incidents of abuse.” The firm also noted that “access to and availability of reporting mechanisms is broadly understood across USA Fencing.”

Suggestions for improvement

  • Ensure all reporting and responding procedures include how to respond to youth-to-youth sexual abuse and sexual activity.

    • USA Fencing’s plan: All of our reporting procedures now account for how to deal with youth-to-youth misconduct. We are updating our disciplinary processes which we hope to be adopted at our upcoming Board meeting at the end of October which we hope will streamline our processes and bring clarity to our membership. We have also implemented the use of RealResponse, a text based anonymous reporting system for our community to use by texting 320-ENGARDE.

How to File a Report

Anyone who wishes to file a report with USA Fencing — anonymously or on the record — is encouraged to text 320-ENGARDE or learn about the reporting options outlined on our FenceSafe platform.

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