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Clear boundaries help manage child abuse, molestation risks: Experts

risk management

LONG BEACH, California – Organization leaders who promote clear boundaries backed by enforcement mechanisms can successfully manage the risks of child abuse and molestation, experts say.

Statistics indicate that one in four girls and one in 13 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18, but many incidents go unreported, said Candace Collins, director of strategic alliances at Arlington, Texas-based Praesidium Inc., which specializes in preventing sexual abuse in organizations that serve youth and vulnerable adults. She spoke during a session Tuesday at the Public Risk Management Association’s annual conference.  

These children will later be prone to serious physical and behavioral consequences, including mental health issues, said Dorothy Gjerdrum, St. Paul, Minnesota-based senior managing director at Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services Inc.

Organizations are beginning to pay more attention to the issue, due to events such as the testimony of Olympic gymnasts who accused Larry Nassar of molestation and the enactment of state “reviver” laws that extend the statute of limitations for molestation victims to sue.

Another external factor “that’s putting extraordinary pressure on organizations right now” is the amount of litigation claims, Ms. Collins said.

“The insurance market for sexual abuse and molestation liability continues to harden,” she said. “It’s becoming more difficult to obtain coverage at the right terms and conditions and at the right price point, and that’s not changing.”

Ms. Collins said a survey her company conducted found insurers are asking questions about organizations’ policies, training, screening processes, and supervision of children.

Efforts by insurers are beginning to result in changes in how organizations manage the risks, Ms. Collins said.

In those that have successfully addressed the issue by setting standards and introducing enforcement mechanisms, “everyone has ownership and takes a part,” she said. “All of that really starts with a voice from the top.”

Ms. Gjerdrum added, “The most expensive (sexual molestation) claims that we’ve looked at are when a district tries to cover it up, or when they pretended it didn’t happen. So, walking away from this is not a path to success.”