Most youth-serving organizations must implement controls to prevent the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults. We talk about the need for comprehensive sexual abuse prevention here. In addition, we talk about what comprehensive prevention looks like in our Ten-Step Guide.
The guide also talks about the need for comprehensive protection for organizations that fail to prevent sexual abuse. We are not sure why, but many people don’t like talking about how to protect their organizations from the consequences of failing to prevent sexual abuse. However, given how little protection most organizations have and how it has diminished while the costs of failing to prevent sexual abuse have risen so much, the “discomfort” needs to go.
There are two traditional forms of organization protection. First, legal protections for users were included when the regulations were enacted into law twenty or more years ago to incentivize using the prevention rules. For example, provided criminal background checks are performed, organizations have some protections from negligent hiring claims. You must consult legal advice to know if and how this applies.
In addition to legal protections, insurance for sexual abuse was readily available twenty years ago. Its cost was so low it was bundled more or less for free in general liability insurance policies.
For most of the last twenty years, most organizations have assumed that using the controls required by the rules will prevent abuse. Further, the combination of following the rules and insurance provides sound protection from the consequences of any sexual abuse they cannot prevent.
Over the last ten years, four significant changes have meant these traditional assumptions no longer hold. As a result, most organizations are no longer adequately protected from sexual abuse or its consequences.
- We now know the compliance-based rules that 95% of organizations follow are not enough, on their own, to prevent sexual abuse from rising. Adult-on-child sexual abuse has doubled in the last ten years. Child-on-child sexual abuse has increased five times.
- The costs of failing to prevent sexual abuse have risen sharply. Ten years ago, an allegation of abuse would have led to lawyers huddling to agree on a settlement covered by an NDA; disruption to organizations, personal lives, and reputations was limited. Today, a criminal investigation that could last two years will follow an allegation. Then, if upheld, potentially five years of civil litigation could follow. Today, the disruption to organizations and personal lives is significant, and reputations are utterly destroyed. And a large sexual abuse settlement ten years ago was $250,000; today, it is $25,000,000, though that isn’t the highest we have seen.
- Plaintiffs’ attorneys have had twenty years to figure out how to circumvent the user protections built into the laws requiring, for example, criminal background checks. For instance, in an open letter to Congress about a year ago penned in part by Jeff Anderson & Associates, one of the leading plaintiffs’ attorneys in this space, there was a list of twelve allegations of negligence about how the Boy Scouts of America dealt with sexual abuse, only four of which were within what might be described as “compliance territory.”
- Insurance for sexual abuse is now much harder to find, difficult to buy, covers a lot less, and costs a lot more. As a result, in the foreseeable future, sexual abuse insurance may only be available as a stand-alone product at a much higher cost and for much lower coverage than has traditionally been available.
The bottom line of these changes is that organizations can no longer rely on rules and insurance to prevent sexual abuse and protect them from the consequences if they fail. Neither prevents or protects well enough. Instead, organizations must look after themselves. Risk management best practice is the research-proven most effective way to achieve this.
That an organization’s protection from the consequences of failing to prevent sexual abuse, as long as it does everything it reasonably can to prevent sexual abuse, should be comprehensive is a BOKRIM core principle.