Yesterday’s AP report is a helpful reminder of two of the (many) challenges organizations managing sexual abuse and misconduct (SAM) risk need to remember.
The first challenge is that just because something has been done a certain way for many years, doesn’t make it still appropriate today.
Specifically, having social workers operate helplines to receive reports of abuse is probably a good idea. It was certainly way ahead of its time in 1995, when the Mormons first started using social workers like this.
But having a policy of requiring the social workers to pass any substantive allegations of abuse to a law firm representing the Church – rather than following the regulatory requirement of notifying law enforcement or child protective services – is not so clever (ignoring whether it may also be illegal for the social workers to ignore their personal regulatory obligation). But combined with requiring the social workers to destroy all their paperwork at the end of every day, the Church creates the impression it is more interested in protecting itself than the victims of child sexual abuse.
The Mormon Church is hardly alone in using these kinds of tactics or in giving this impression, and it would be unfair to suggest otherwise. But where some have appreciated the damage such an impression gives, the Mormons don’t yet seem to have seen this. Their posture – creating secrecy/privilege as instantly as possible – is how many organizations used to handle this situation. And while the short-term legal ‘benefit’ may seem valuable, the long-term reputation and financial damage can far exceed any short-term benefits.
Which illuminates the second challenge. All Churches (schools, sports clubs, and all sorts of youth-serving organizations) have values, yet too few apply them to their SAM risk management.
Organizations are trusted when they are both clear about their values and transparent about living and operating according to them. There isn’t a religious denomination, including the Mormons, that would argue putting itself ahead of the victims of child sexual abuse accords with its values. But the Mormons, like many other institutions, are trapped by tactical thinking developed more than twenty years ago – when the sexual abuse crisis first emerged. Though so much else has changed in the last twenty years, too much thinking around SAM risk management – particularly SAM-related incident response – hasn’t fundamentally altered.
Until the Mormons – and many others – start using best practices like setting principles for SAM risk management and SAM-related incident response based on their values, they will continue to damage their reputations.
Too many organizations are shooting themselves in the foot because they are trapped in outdated SAM risk management thinking when others are starting to be rewarded for using risk management best practices.