Sexual violence transcends age and organizational settings. It can occur with young children, older children, individuals with disabilities, and with elderly adults. Studies suggest that 12-40 percent of females and 4 to 16.5 percent of males in the United States have experienced at least one instance of sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence.
According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, 18% of women raped each year are 60 or older. Within this age group 2.4% were assaulted in adult care residences and 70.7% were assaulted in nursing homes.
This article will focus upon the sexual abuse that occurs within organizational facilities that serve children, individuals with disabilities and the elderly populations. These are populations of individuals who are vulnerable, and may have limitations that prevent them from consenting to sexual acts and reliably communicating and/or reporting the assault and abuse.
Sexual Abuse at Organizational Facilities - Expert Article
Sexual violence is an all-encompassing term that refers to sexual assault, rape and sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is defined as undesired, unwanted sexual behavior or activity by one person upon another. It often includes nonconsensual touching, fondling, intercourse, or any other sexual activity with an individual. It can occur when an adult abuses a child, an adult abuses another adult or when a child abuses another child.
Who does it affect?
Sexual abuse can affect anyone of any ethnic background, gender, age, and socioeconomic status. The abuser or perpetrator also permeates a plethora of backgrounds, gender, ages and socioeconomic statuses.
In organizational settings, the sexual abuse can occur from an employee to employee, employee to individual, individual to individual, volunteer to individual, and “trusted other” to individual.
The individual program participant or resident in an organizational setting often requires assistance with personal care needs or activities of daily living. These individuals are frequently alone on a one to one basis with the caregivers and “trusted others” who assist them with meeting their care needs. This one to one contact can provide an increased opportunity for sexual abuse to occur. The perpetrator may use force, make threats, coerce, or take advantage of an individual who is unable to give consent due to age, mental capacity, disability and/or ability to communicate effectively.
Where does it occur?
Facility-based abuse within vulnerable populations of individuals can occur in, among others, day care and early educational settings, schools, afterschool programs, camps, residential and day programs, health care facilities, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, religious facilities and/or volunteer organizations, among others.
Sexual Abuse in Educational Environments
Young children (infants and children under the age of six) and children with developmental, emotional, psychological and physical disabilities are at higher risk for abuse in organizational settings. One in ten children is sexually abused by age 18.
Within the variety of educational environments, perpetrators have both influence and proximity to children. The manner in which a predator accesses the child and the methods used in accessing the child can vary in the different educational environments.
Regardless of the setting, abusers may use a variety of methods such as grooming, bribes, threats or physical force to take advantage of the child’s innocence or awareness of abuse.
Developmentally, young children are not yet equipped to understand the nuances of the grooming process. The grooming process is a “method used by offenders that involves building trust with a child and the adults around a child in an effort to gain access to and time alone with him/her.” In Institutional grooming, “Sex offenders may groom criminal justice [organizations] and other institutions into believing that they present no risk to children.” The grooming process allows a predator and/or perpetrator to use his/her knowledge of the child to commit the sexual abuse.
A child‘s level of cognitive and emotional development may limit him/her from disclosing abuse. For example, a young child may be unable to discern that the verbal threats made by a perpetrator might not be realistic. The perpetrator may tell a child that if they report the abuse to anyone, the perpetrator will harm their family, loved ones or pets. As a result, their reporting of inappropriate sexual contact may not be forthcoming or immediate, and may surface at random times, and/or manifest itself through behavioral changes.
Sexual abuse in the early childcare environment typically occurs at times when teachers and caregivers have access to an individual child or multiple children out of view of other direct care staff and, may be left often alone in a one to one or in an unsupervised environment.
Sexual abuse in the primary and secondary school setting typically occurs in situations in which supervision has lessened. These situations can occur more easily before and after school hours, in empty classrooms, hallways, stairwells, locker rooms, and vacant offices. Some perpetrators will use their position of authority or power to sexually harass and engage in sexual relationships with the student and/or peer. They may lure vulnerable students into sexual acts with the promise of money, love and affection, good grades, peer acceptance, and materialistic items such as phones, jewelry and clothing.
The school-aged child is still growing and developing emotional, social, physical and intellectual skills. An older child may not recognize sexual abuse for what it is, be embarrassed to report it, succumb to peer pressure and/or deny that it occurred when confronted. Potential threats of social exposure, isolation or peer pressure, at a time in a child’s life when he/she is changing developmentally, can result in abuse going unreported.
Sexual Abuse in Adult Day Programs, Residential Settings for Individuals with Disabilities, and Healthcare Facilities
Individuals in Adult Day Programs, Residential Settings for Individuals with Disabilities, and Healthcare Facilities (hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabilitation facilities) are at an increased risk for sexual abuse because they may be more vulnerable due to medical conditions, and/or other disabilities.
Many times this individual is unable to communicate and express what is happening to him/her or to give consent. These individuals may be intimidated by their abuser, who may be the person they rely upon to provide care and services, and who may have personal access to the individual. In these types of organizational settings, the perpetrator may use threats such as withholding food, medication, and/or other necessities, to isolate the individual or prohibit them from communicating or seeing their loved ones if they report the abuse.
The individuals placed in the care of adult day programs, residential settings for individuals with disabilities, and healthcare facilities may include those with psychiatric disorders, past experiences with sexual assault/abuse, and criminal histories. Many times the past experiences with sexual assault/abuse and past criminal histories related to sexual assault of individuals are unknown to the facility at the time of their admission, and may never be known to the caregivers. These individuals are more likely to become abusers of other individuals at the facility. In situations like this, the program participants may become the actual perpetrator of their peers within the facility.
Sexual Abuse Prevention Strategies
Although the scope, mission, policies, and procedures in each type of facility may vary, there remain similarities overall that may assist organizations to prevent sexual abuse in facility based programs.
The most reasonable way to decrease abuse is to focus on preventing the abuse before it occurs. There are several strategies that an organization can focus on in an attempt to prevent sexual abuse. These are facility dependent and may include, among others:
- Screening out potential perpetrators from employment within the organization.
- Monitoring employees/volunteers.
- Creating safe physical environments.
- Developing effective policies and procedures.
- Supervision of program participants/residents.
- Staff training.
There is not a single fool proof method, but a combination of practices that, when combined with the specific organizational needs, will assist in creating a safe environment. Properly and effectively developing and implementing a variety of methods, specific to the needs of the facility based program, can help to decrease the prevalence of sexual abuse within organizational settings.
INVESTIGATING SEXUAL ABUSE IN ORGANIZATIONAL SETTINGS
Among the supervision experts at Robson Forensic are former teachers, school administrators, and child / adult day care program coordinators. They have hands on experience working in organized care settings, designing and implementing the processes and procedures used to screen staff during the hiring process, train staff, and report/investigate incidents.
For more information, contact the authors of this article or submit an inquiry.
Supervised Care and Rehabilitation Counseling Expert
Dr. Thorsen is a care expert who evaluates the adequacy of administrative, procedural and safety issues related to injuries at organizationally based facilities. She has nearly 30 years of experience working in and administering care facilities and programs, and is an expert in operations and compliance for the care and safety of children and adults, including individuals with disabilities, in public and private facilities and programs. She holds a Doctorate degree in Education and Policy Studies and is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor with a Master degree specializing in education. In addition she is a Certified School District Administrator and a Certified Playground Safety Inspector.
- Pennsylvania Coalition against Rape. Elder Sexual Abuse: The Hidden Victim. A Training Program for Law Enforcement. http://www.pcar.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdfs/eldersexualabuseatrianing_programforlawenforcement.pdf, accessed 01/14/19.
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault services providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. https://www.rainn.org/types-sexual-violence, accessed 5/20/19.
- American Psychological Association. The American Psychological Association is the largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists in the United States, with over 118,000 members including scientists, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students. https://www.apa.org/topics/sexual-abuse, accessed 5/20/19.
- Townsend,D., & Rheingold,A.A., (2013) Estimating a child sexual abuse prevalence rate for practitioners: studies. Charleston, S.C., Darkness to Light.
- U.S. Department of Justice, NSOPW. www.nsopw.gov