Sexual abuse jury awards go nuclear

The costs of failing to prevent sexual abuse have been rising sharply for at least the last ten years, but in the last few days, they have leaped up to new potential highs.

The largest settlement we were aware of for an individual victim of relatively current sexual abuse (sexual abuse committed within the last five years) was, until this week, $40m.  That exceeded the second-highest value of $25m by some way.

Yet this week, a New Mexico jury awarded $485M to an 8-year-old girl who was repeatedly sexually assaulted in foster care.

Much of the evidence presented in the case dealt not with the abuse but with the alleged negligence of the organizations that were supposed to have protected the little girl.  She was raped repeatedly after being placed in the home of someone known to have prior accusations of sexual assault. 

According to papers filed in the case, the principal safeguarding agency allegedly “had unqualified employees, was understaffed, failed to follow or enforce policies and procedures, engaged in a pattern and practice of merely placing foster children to fill beds, and had incidents of physical and sexual assaults of foster children by foster families.” 

As one of the plaintiff’s attorneys said after the case, “I think the jury’s award and verdict show the little girl she is valued and that what happened to her shouldn’t have happened.” It certainly did.

However, one of the other plaintiff’s attorneys said: “They (the jury) were the ones that came in and said no, no, no, not anymore, not in this state…..  Enough is enough. You’re done. We’re not going to tolerate the way you do business in New Mexico.”  Will organizations change how they protect children?  We’ll see.  

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Tim Jaggs

I am a Brit who now lives just outside San Francisco.  Though I have given up arguing for “football,” not “soccer,” I am still trying to decide whether football is better to watch than rugby – it’s a very close call – and if it’s OK to admit I enjoy baseball almost as much as cricket.

I have worked with organizations managing sexual abuse risk for over 15 years. 

I created BOKRIM to help people working with children, who often have little risk management experience, to use risk management best practices to protect children from sexual abuse and protect themselves from the consequences of failing to prevent sexual abuse.