Risk Reporter for Religious Institutions
Fall/Winter 2015 Vol. 14, Issue 4
Preventing child sexual abuse in youth programs
From daycare programs to summer camp, children’s choir to youth sports, active programs for families and children are a welcome, even essential, part of modern worship. Unfortunately, youth activities can also provide prime opportunities for child sexual abusers to target and gain access to victims.
Disclosure Among Victims
- Not all sexually abused children exhibit symptoms.
- Disclosures [of abuse] often unfold gradually and could be presented in a series of hints.
- If they are ready, children might then follow with a larger hint if they think it will be handled well.
- Disclosure of sexual abuse is often delayed; children often avoid telling because they are either afraid of a negative reaction from their parents or of being harmed by the abuser.
Source: “Raising Awareness About Sexual Abuse: Facts and Statistics” The U.S. Department of Justice, NSOPW
Addressing the problem
While child sexual abuse may be an uncomfortable topic, it is important for faith leaders to tackle the problem head-on. An abuse scandal connected to a house of worship or other faith-based operation can have devastating effects:
- Damaged reputation
- Loss of public trust
- Loss of members and financial support
- Unexpected legal expenses
- Lawsuits brought by victims and their families
Taking steps to prevent child sexual abuse can help protect your organization as well as the children and teens entrusted to your care.
Making the decision to act
Faith communities might hesitate to discuss child sexual abuse in the mistaken belief that prevention might be difficult or costly, might lead the public to believe a problem already exists or because of fears that abuse will be discovered.
Leaders need to educate themselves, staff members, volunteers and congregants about the benefits of prevention:
- Well-defined youth-protection policies could reduce liability.
- Uncovering problems sooner rather than later might limit negative impacts.
- Thirty-five percent of child sexual abusers were abused themselves, so prevention can break the cycle.
Perhaps, most importantly, preventive measures can support a faith community’s mission to serve and protect all of its members.
Key components of a prevention plan
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), working in concert with experts in the field, has identified six key components of prevention programs for youth organizations. These components are not separate “steps” but rather facets of an integrated and cohesive approach.
- Careful screening of applicants for any staff or volunteer positions involving contact with children and youths.
- Detailed policies and guidelines for adult-youth and youth-youth interactions.
- Safe physical environments that limit opportunities for abuse.
- Empowerment of employees and volunteers to monitor/report abusive behavior or breaches of policy.
- Defined responses to abuse allegations or suspicions, including: reports to authorities; restriction or suspension of alleged abusers; and restorative practices to support victims, their families and others.
- Training to help employees, volunteers and youths understand abuse.
This overview is based on the CDC handbook Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Within Youth-serving Organizations, which is available for download at cdc.gov.
Let us help
Please feel free to contact Church Mutual with any questions about liability or insurance coverage related to child sexual abuse, youth programs, etc. For assistance, contact your agent directly, view youth safety videos at churchmutual.com/videos or contact our Risk Control Consulting and Research Center at (800) 554-2642, ext. 5213, or email@example.com.
If your organization needs help screening job applicants and volunteers, please contact our corporate partner Trusted Employees at trustedemployees.com or (877) 389-4024.
WARNING SIGNS OF POSSIBLE ABUSERS
Keep an eye out for adults or older children who display these behaviors:
- Ignore social, emotional or physical boundaries
- Refuse to let children set limits on interactions
Sexual behavior and conversation
- Use sexual language to describe, tease or insult children
- Mistake gestures of friendship or affection as being sexual in nature
- Minimize harmful or hurtful behaviors when confronted
Relationships with children
- Turn to children rather than adults for emotional or physical comfort
- Share inappropriate personal or private confidences with youths
- Secretly interact with children or teens through games, texting, emails, phone calls, etc.
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