Posted by & filed under Risk Control.

It’s obvious to say it, but sexual abuse continues to be a serious problem in our society. As a human services organization, you especially know the challenges in effectively managing (if not eliminating) this problem, while at the same time allowing for a level of flexibility in the delivery of programs and services that fulfill your missions. Despite the challenges, it’s critical to remember the importance of striving to make sure that none of your clients are harmed in your mission delivery process … including from acts of sexual abuse. Failing to do so can result in devastating consequences.

Scope of the Problem

Over the past two decades, progress appears to have been made in recognizing and reducing the problem of sexual abuse. There is probably a variety of reasons for this, but additional light being shed on the problem through improved statistical research and reporting, public awareness and victim advocacy campaigns, risk management and prevention mechanisms, and criminal and civil consequences against perpetrators seem to be helping. In fact, according to statistics in the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, 2012, the rate of rape/sexual assault victimization reported to police declined from 56% in 2003 to 28% in 2012. In addition, other data indicate that the rates of substantiated childhood sexual abuse may have declined some 60% from 1992 to 2012.

However, even though there has apparently been a decline in sexual crime rates, other studies indicate that sexual abuse is still prevalent in our society … particularly with respect to children. Every day it seems we continue to learn about new stories of sexual abuse. And although the statistics appear to vary somewhat, different research suggests very remarkable numbers, such as: upwards of 33% of girls and 15% of boys have been sexually abused during their childhood; perhaps 90% (or more) of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator; nearly 45% of reported sexual assault victims are under age 18; and possibly more than 85% of sexual abuse cases go unreported. Clearly, the problem persists, and significant impacts continue to be felt by victims. While the range and degree of impacts do not appear to be uniform, most experts acknowledge (and common sense tells us) that those impacts can be very serious physically and psychologically. For example, sexual abuse may lead to, among other things, depression, substance abuse, sexually transmitted disease, eating disorders, and even suicide. In addition, a study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine published in 2005 found that 80% of children who have been sexually abused have some symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Moreover, research has also shown that children who are emotionally insecure, have special needs or parentally under-supported may be even more vulnerable to sexual abuse and its impacts.

Addressing the Problem

Another challenging issue with the child sexual abuse problem is that it apparently occurs in every racial, religious, ethnic, age and socioeconomic group. Also, child sexual abuse perpetrators often turn out to be some of the people we trust the most – such as family members, neighbors, babysitters, religious leaders, teachers, coaches, caregivers, and virtually anyone else who has been entrusted to have close contact with children.

In addition, it seems that no location is absolutely safe from sexual predators. Consequently, the relative pervasiveness of the problem itself seems to create more challenges (and substantial costs) to developing and implementing successful awareness, education and plans to mitigate (if not prevent) it.

The true costs of the sexual abuse problem are unknown. However, some estimates suggest in the billions of dollars annually. As such, it behooves your organization, other organizations like yours and all of us to continue to be proactive and responsible in how this problem is addressed. Though there appear to be reductions in frequency of sexual abuse crimes over the past two decades, now is not the time to relax efforts and potentially cede ground on progress. Let’s continue to work even more diligently to address the problem.

Obviously, this article cannot raise all the questions or provide all the answers to address this problem. But, here are a few that your organization might consider as it continues to address its exposures:

  • Does our organization have written guidelines that acknowledge and set forth a policy and procedure with respect to sexual abuse exposures? If not, develop, train and enforce them.
  • Does your organization have mandatory reporting requirements to law enforcement or other agency authorities of incidents of sexual abuse? If yes, make sure your employees and volunteers know and respect these requirements.
  • Does your organization conduct and document appropriate background, reference, employment and other screenings of potential employees and volunteers? If not, develop the procedures, tools and resources to do so.
  • Does your organization train and monitor employees with respect to appropriate client interactions, recognizing that “one-on-one” exposures can be particularly problematic? If yes, continue to make sure that inappropriate client interactions are understood and not ignored.
  • Does your organization communicate its policies and procedures with parents or other legal guardians of its clients? If not, develop an effective way to do so, as sharing appropriate information can be an important step in eliminating this problem.
  • Does your organization contractually require independent contractors and vendors to indemnify, defend and hold harmless your organization for their sexual abuse exposures? If yes, take the time to make sure you obtain proof of insurance from them, with limits equal to or greater than your own, and with your organization listed as an additional insured.

Again, consider this just a partial list for your consideration. Because there are so many variables related to this complex problem, we strongly encourage you to evaluate and address this issue further with your expert advisors.

Other Resources

There are numerous resources we offer to help your organization better understand and address this problem. For example, we have collaborated with IntelliCorp to provide a package of background check products at attractive rates for our current policyholders. To register for this service, go to www.intellicorp.net/marketing/RegisterNow.aspx. Complete the first page of the registration process and enter Promotion Code BHS.

In addition, we have developed various on-line risk management classroom training modules for our current policyholders on subjects such as “Child Protection in Youth-Serving Organizations,” “Screening Paid and Volunteer Staff: A Practical Framework,” “Safe Facilities, Safe Programs: Keeping Property Mission and People Safe,”and “Contracting with Care and Managing Collaboration Risks.” First time users of the classrooms need to register at http://nonprofitrisk.org.

Also, consider visiting www.berkleyhumanservices.com/category/risk-control/ to view our various other Safe Harbors publications that cover a range of risk management topics, including youth protection, preventing client-on-client abuse, camp readiness, and employment screening.

Finally, don’t hesitate to contact one of our dedicated loss control consultants by phone 612-766-3100 or email riskcontrol@berkleyhumanservices.com to discuss this and other risk management subjects.

Suggestions and comments contained herein are provided for purposes of general education only. Suggestions and comments are not intended for the purpose of providing you with legal advice or legal counsel, and are not intended to assure compliance with or complete analysis of any law, rule or regulation. In addition, suggestions and comments should not be interpreted to imply or infer that all exposures, hazards or loss potentials on any subject or issue were identified or considered. No warranty, or guaranty of accuracy, fitness or suitability, express or implied, is granted with respect to any of the information contained herein.