In 1993, I was a young risk-management professional presenting my first child sexual-abuse seminar to a youth organization in theMidwest. The content of the talk was based on the insurance industry’s examination of claims experience, combined with its interpretation of root causes and contributing factors. Little did I know at the time that the information and strategies I presented that day would have little–if any–chance of detecting or preventing abuse.
Fast forward 16 years, and the national headlines of child-abuse cases involving schools, camps, churches, leagues, and other youth organizations continued to reveal the infiltration of child molesters. As an attendee and speaker at various wilderness, camp, and outdoor-recreation conferences, I discovered that new information and tactics were simply absent from the agenda. Then, in the spring of 2009, a child molester was discovered in our own midst, exposing the gripping reality that the perpetrator was someone who was known and trusted.
Gaining Some Perspective
Statistically, as many as one in three girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused at some point in their childhood.¹ Public-opinion surveys conducted by organizations such as Stop It Now! help to substantiate this estimate, noting that “29 percent of women and 14 percent of men surveyed reported having been sexually abused as children.”² Male abusers who target girls have an average of 52 victims prior to prosecution, and male abusers who target boys have an average of 150 victims prior to prosecution.³
Categorically, perpetrators of child sexual abuse are typically males in 85 to 90 percent of the cases, and in 90 percent of child sexual cases, is an acquaintance the child knows and trusts.⁴ The Department of Justice estimates that approximately 400,000 or more convicted pedophiles currently reside in the U.S.⁵, with indications that fewer than 10 percent of sexual offenses will ever be prosecuted. Because a large percentage of crimes never reach conviction, they are not included in national reporting databases.
For years, youth organizations have dedicated extensive resources to combat molesters who are strangers with an “outside-in” mentality, unaware that these molesters represent only 10 percent of abuse cases. Acquaintance molesters, on the other hand, represent the larger percentage–and for the sake of simplicity–fall within two categories:
A grooming child-molester is a person who follows a premeditated, methodical pattern of “grooming” a child into becoming a potential victim. The six-stage grooming process, as suggested by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner, includes:
- Targeting a victim
- Gaining trust
- Filling a need
- Isolating the victim
- Sexualizing the relationship
- Maintaining control.
This grooming process was further evidenced in September 2010 whenOrangeCountysheriff deputies confiscated a 170-page child-molestation instruction manual circulating around centralFlorida. Reports state that it shows, step by step, how to molest children.⁶ While “groomers” are perhaps the most devastating of all molesters in regard to the number of victims, the behavior patterns of grooming molesters can potentially be detected with proper training and monitoring strategies.
The opportunistic child-molester is less premeditated in approach, and lacks the benefit of time with which to groom a child to become a victim. As such, the molester works quickly to capitalize on a scenario whereby an isolated child feels unable to escape a situation when it becomes sexualized. This scenario often occurs during events such as sleepovers, lock-ins, campouts, transportation settings, and sporting events, and involves acquaintances such as family members, youth counselors, peers, coaches, volunteers, and teachers. In contrast to the grooming molester, the opportunistic molester may not exhibit prior behavioral patterns of isolated red-flag behavior, making it more difficult to detect.
Some Of The Problems
As an example, consider the difference between getting a splinter in your finger versus contracting cancer. When a splinter pierces the skin, nerve endings immediately signal to the brain that a foreign object has entered the body and needs immediate treatment. Cancer, on the other hand, can exist in the body undetected for a long period because the body does not immediately recognize and resist this disease until perhaps it is too late. Sexual abuse in a youth organization is similar to cancer, and without a proper remedy, may continue undetected. Therefore, solutions to the following problems must be addressed in order to effectively recognize, resist, and report child abuse.
Misconception 1: “I can detect a molester just by looking at him or her.”
Identification of physical and/or verbal attributes continues to be the most difficult aspect of preventing or detecting an acquaintance child-molester. Kenneth Lanning of the FBI states, “The acquaintance molester, by definition, is one of us. He cannot be identified by physical description, and often not even by ‘bad’ character traits. Without specialized training or experience and an objective perspective, he cannot easily be distinguished from others.”⁷ In fact, trained law-enforcement officers are often fooled by highly skilled perpetrators.
Misconception 2: “I screen out all potential threats using criminal background and sex-offender screening.”
While still valuable, background screening is not as complete in reporting prior deviant behavior as was once believed. In fact, if fewer than 10 percent of perpetrators are ever criminally prosecuted, then 90 percent of perpetrators are not in the database. Bob Sullivan reported on msnbc.com that national criminal databases are often full of holes and lead to a false sense of security. He further suggested that criminal databases have spotty county and state participation, vary in data-format reporting, have incomplete results, and do not include federal crimes. Rhonda Taylor, CEO of Intellisense Corp., states, “We’ve done tests, and the national databases have a 41-percent error rate.”⁸ Lastly, the FBI reported, “Contrary to popular belief, no single source exists that provides complete up-to-date information about a person’s criminal history.”⁹ Clearly, background screening has value in the overall eligibility assessment process, but should no longer take center stage.
Misconception 3: “I can tell if someone is grooming or molesting by his or her actions.”
The problem here is that the early stages of grooming look strikingly similar to the activities conducted by the organization, i.e., coaching volleyball, teaching archery, mentoring, holding class sessions, etc. In fact, you may not be able to tell one from the other because they are, in essence, the same. It is not until the latter part of stage four—isolating a child—that the acquaintance molester diverts from an organization’s typical operating protocol. And, not until the execution of stage five—sexualizing the relationship—has a child sexual-abuse act, or crime, actually been committed.
As you may have concluded, there is no silver bullet to prevent or detect acquaintance child-molestation. Likewise, the ocean of content spanning the web is overwhelmingly debilitating when attempting to create sustainable solutions. For risk-management professionals responsible for implementation, solutions have to be doable, relevant, affordable, and field-ready or risk sitting on a shelf collecting dust. A well-developed child-protection plan should focus on three primary objectives:
- To prevent would-be molesters from gaining access to minors
- To detect behavior patterns and early-stage abuse tactics, and resolve prior to an occurrence
- To respond promptly and effectively to allegations of child sexual abuse, both camp- and non-camp related.
In meeting these objectives, six key initiatives should be developed to offer a balanced strategy focused on operational support, grounds/facilities, staffing, training/orientation, monitor/reporting, and crisis response.
Operational support provides solutions in the areas of insurance-coverage selection, statutory definitions and regulations, national child-abuse reporting, and critical document archiving.
Facilities/grounds address the camp property, targeting areas where abuse generally occurs, dealing with concealed recording devices, and processing camp visitors and vendors.
Staffing addresses the employee and volunteer hiring process, adding new strategies in application review, interviewing, screening, and red-flag analysis.
Training/orientation identifies direct and indirect access personnel, and provides appropriate instruction on abuse awareness, employee screening, a code of conduct, reporting guidelines, and supervision. Additional orientation should be provided to parents and campers on the organization’s code of conduct and reporting guidelines.
Monitor/report empowers employees and volunteers to assess human interactions in the camp setting, detect suspicious and/or inappropriate behavior, and follow reporting protocols.
Crisis response provides camp leaders with the necessary steps to take in the midst of a camp- or non-camp related allegation of abuse.
Child sexual abuse is not a new phenomenon, nor does it appear to be fading, even with increased public awareness. Youth-serving organizations must retool prevention and detection strategies in order to combat this problem. The unfortunate reality of identifying a would-be molester is that either he or she is pushed out of the program and down the road unpunished, or abuse is detected while it is occurring or shortly thereafter, neither of which result seems a triumph. Nevertheless, the satisfaction of ensuring that kids remain kids without losing the value of innocence is a battle worth fighting.
²Stop It Now! meta-analysis of ten random digit-dialed telephone surveys between 1997 and 2007. www.stopitnow.org/csa_fact_prevalence1.
³Abuse Prevention Systems, Gregory Love and Kim Norris, Directors. www.abusepreventionsystems.com.
⁴ Douglas, Emily and D. Finkelhor, Childhood sexual abuse fact sheet, Crimes Against Children Research Center, May 2005 www.unh.edu/ccrc/factsheet/pdf/childhoodSexualAbuseFactSheet.pdf.
⁵ Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics, by Howard N. Snyder, Ph.D.;NationalCenterfor Juvenile Justice, July 2000,U.S.Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
⁶”170-Page Child Molestation Instruction Manual Surfaces” Posted: 8:22 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010
⁷”Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis,” Fifth Edition 2010, U.S. Department of Justice, p. 8.
⁸“Criminal background checks incomplete: How convicted felons can slip through safety net” www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7467732/ns/technology_and_science-security/t/criminal-background-checks-incomplete/.
⁹The United States Department of Justice. “The Attorney General’s Report on Criminal History Background Checks,” June 2006.
Rick Braschler is the Director of Risk Management for Kanakuk Kamps, and the Senior Risk Consultant for CircuiTree Solutions, offering specialized risk-consulting in the camping and outdoor-recreation industries. He is the author of “The Child Protection Plan,” a field manual for youth-serving organizations, which includes 122 measureable protection elements, policies, procedures, forms, checklists, and a self-audit. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 417-266-3337, or visit www.circuitreesolutions.com/workshop.