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Preventing Sexual Abuse in Organizations by Angelique Dale from Praesidium

Posted by Angelique Dale on April 18, 2016 at 11:46 AM

In this episode of PRIMA Podcasts, Angelique Dale shares some methods that may be employed by organizations in order to manage the risk of sexual abuse. Angelique indicates that changes in how organizations approach and deal with these risks have not been as radical as one would hope, despite the fact that incidents of this nature are constantly being reported by the media. Many organizations still rely solely on criminal background checks, which is problematic because only 40% of offenders actually have a criminal background. This may be attributed to the fact that very few offenders get caught.

Red Flags To Look Out For

One of the biggest misconceptions about sexual abuse is that it cannot be prevented from happening. With a view such as this, many organizations focus their efforts on reporting and the aftermath, as opposed to prevention. However, sexual abuse can be prevented if organizations look for red flags. These usually show up repeatedly in abuse incidents.

Common behaviors and indicators of potential or current abusers are:

  1. Breaking the rules and/or pushing the limits of appropriate behavior with children until they have to be told not to;
  2. Being physical with minors. This includes wrestling, tickling and physical affection;
  3. Going above and beyond to spend more time with youths, including staying late, offering to drive kids home, etc.

All of these behaviors offer a strong case for putting clear rules and policies in place and establishing a reporting process, so that others within your organization know exactly what to do and can report when they see a person violating a policy. This includes clearly defining what is appropriate and inappropriate for staff and volunteers, especially as it pertains to physical contact and affection, verbal communication, outside communication, and especially electronic communication.

When asked about the most common abuse incident in youth-serving organizations, Angelique explains that it is actually peer-to-peer abuse that is the most common abuse occurrence (that is, two youths sexually acting out together, often between the ages of 7 and 13). This may be carried out in a bullying or hazing incident, or it could be consensual. However, consent is irrelevant since children should not be engaging in sexual behavior under any circumstances. This is why it is imperative to be extremely vigilant when supervise youths and to establish clearly-defined supervision and monitoring policies.

Policies For Preventing Sexual Abuse in Your Organization

Many offenders manage to slip through the cracks and get jobs around children. One primary reason for this is the use of statewide-only background checks, rather than national background checks. Angelique emphasizes that organizations should view background checks as merely one component of a thorough screening process. They should also be looking at the information they collect on applications, the questions they ask during interviews, and how the applicant has handled situations in past. Both personal and professional references can also be incredibly helpful; whereas many professional references are restricted in what they can say, personal references can provide a wealth of information about the applicant.

Angelique offers the following suggestions for preventing sexual abuse in your organization:

  1. Start by gathering everything you have in writing – hiring practices, policy manuals, etc. - to see what you have in place already, and work from there to ensure you are providing staff and volunteers with clear rules and policies;
  2. Talk to the staff to get their interpretation of policies, and also talk to those involved in the hiring process to see what procedures they have in place;
  3. Take a close look at your training curriculum, as well as your organization’s supervision and monitoring programs for staff, volunteers and youth participants;
  4. Figure out where you might need extra help from experts, who can provide training to staff so everyone knows what their role is in prevention; and
  5. Refer to other organizations in the community to see what they’re doing in terms of prevention.


Betty Coulter

April 26, 2016 at 4:42 PM

This was an excellent POD cast. I like the new format and the information is accurate and timely. I have developed a minors program here at UNCC and this was very good information that I will share with my program organizers.


April 28, 2016 at 1:50 PM

Thanks for your feedback Betty! Unfortunately, this is a topic we all have to keep at the forefront, and please don't hesitate to reach out with any questions about how to best manage the risk of abuse in your programs that serve minors at UNCC.