If there is a key to the change in risk management that has occurred over the last five years in religious and other nonprofit organizations as it relates to defending children, it is this: Best practices these days focus on identifying and screening wrongdoers, rather than hoping children can be adequately equipped by teachers and parents to defend themselves against the tactics of an adult predator.
"What research showed was that kids could not protect themselves," said Tony Abella Sr., the Florida-based senior vice president and leader of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co's Southeast Religious Practice.
Abella says researchers grilled adult predators who had been detected in their crime and been mandated, either by the courts or their employer, to enter treatment. One thing the predators told researchers was that they didn't just grab children randomly; they had a system in selecting which children they abused.
They would focus on a child who was a loner, or who didn't have a good support system. Maybe the child had problems at home, maybe he or she was an only child, or maybe other kids picked on the child and he or she became isolated.
But the drill was this. The predator would identify that child, offer the child the protection, mentoring or friendship that he or she craved, and establish a relationship of trust.
Once trust was established and the predator had established a dominant position, perceived by the child of course as a benevolently dominant position, then the molester would throw off their sheep's clothing and reveal their true purpose.
"By the time I made my move, there was no chance for the kid to reject me," is how Abella summarizes some of the statements made by admitted perpetrators to investigators.
What that meant to those who have been working together for decades to provide better protection for young people is that, although it's important to teach self-protection to children, the more manageable end of the risk management equation is in identifying and screening wrongdoers.
A sexually perverted adult may be able to fool a 12-year-old about his or her true intentions, the reasoning went.But a well-trained adult workforce, that had bought into policies and procedures designed to shut the front door against abusers and usher them out effectively should they gain entry to an organization, had the best chance of stopping the mistreatment of children.
The work to create this consciousness goes back at least 20 years. That's when child psychologist Rick Dangel, who was at the time serving on the board of a YMCA that had been victimized by a child molestation incident, began conducting research that culminated in the formation of his Arlington, Texas-based risk management company Praesidium Inc.
A major provider of risk management services to the Catholic Church in the United States, the Vermont-based National Catholic Risk Retention Group, held its own forum of risk management experts in Washington, D.C., in 1998.
With 66 diocese as shareholders, the National Catholic Risk Retention Group offers excess limits for dioceses for a variety of risk exposures, including general liability, directors' and officers' liability, and sexual misconduct.
But board members of the carrier, in particular then Board Chairman Monsignor Kevin McCoy, felt they needed to do much more.
What resulted from the 1998 D.C. forum were the NCRRG-owned Virtus programs, which operate under the trademarked phrase "Protecting God's Children."
Operated by the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based The Agos Group LLC, the Virtus programs employ a wide range of risk management instruction and expert consultation on the topic of sexual misconduct.
According to President Pat Neal, The Agos Group is currently operating at least one element of Virtus' many programs with at least 110 Catholic dioceses.
But Jeff Chasen, the chief operating officer of the Agos Group, joined a chorus of experts interviewed on this topic who decried the common perception that sexual misconduct is a Catholic problem in the main, perhaps because it is assumed that the canonical celibacy of priests somehow leads more easily to sexual interference with others.
"There are really no areas to it, there are no real demographic boundaries to this. The research indicates that there is no greater instance of abuse within the Catholic Church or by priests--that is simply not the case," Chasen said.
What is clearer, according to Chasen, is that creating a profile of the predator and implementing policies to screen predators has the most promise.
"We developed a program that developed the warning signs of wrongdoers rather than wrongdoing," Chasen said.
It may be in the area of identifying wrongdoers that many organizations could be in the dangerous arena of denial. Praesidium's Dangel said that most organizations may think they're doing adequate background checks but are actually falling far short.
Consider the following factors from Dangel's perspective.
"It's estimated that only 3 to 4 percent of offenders have criminal backgrounds," Dangel said. "The other 97 percent don't have a track record."
Dangel added to that disquieting piece of information another one. He says that only about 44 percent of background checks are even accurate.
Dangel said that means that risk managers and their colleagues need to do the following: perform background and reference checks that are precise and ask detailed questions, particularly around the issue of how the potential employee acts around children.
They also need to screen a job applicant for attitudes about rules and policies. Workers who display a disregard for workplace policies or who have fuzzy boundaries could represent a danger to children.
"We know, for instance, that child molesters will do whatever they need to do to get access to a kid, and part of that means that they will violate policies," Dangel said.
Dangel, Chasen and Abella said the urge to victimize someone sexually isn't considered curable, as it was decades ago.
"We are not getting rid of the bad apple. That is a biological problem or social problem or genetic or whatever. But we can keep them out of positions of trust and we can catch them early, and both of those are great outcomes," Dangel said.
According to Abella, the failure years ago of the Catholic Church and others to understand the psychology of the sexual abuser is part of what led aberrant priests to be transferred from parish to parish, even after they had been treated for what must fairly be termed an affliction.
"In past years, sexual abusers/predators were treated for various periods of time and eventually 'certified' as cured," Gallagher's Abella said. "Which led courts and particularly bishops to release them back into the community, only to once again commit their deeds to the detriment of everyone."
Although much has been done to reduce misconduct risk for Catholic Churches and other nonprofits, there is still a lot of exposure out there because many organizations still lack the resources or the interest level to take advantage of the programs offered by such groups or programs such as Praesidium and Virtus.
"The level of risk management among exposed entities is still uneven at best," said William Smyth, an assistant product line manager with the Boston-based Lexington Insurance Co. "For example, many organizations still do not have a zero tolerance policy in their policy manuals," Smyth said.
Smyth said Lexington offers sexual misconduct liability coverage for nonprofits, churches and for-profit businesses "on occasion."
Another insurance executive said many nonprofits are still not taking up sexual misconduct risk management as a matter of engrained policy.
"Nobody wants to think about it or talk about it," said Bob Lipps, executive director for the Lockton Alliance for Ministry Protection, or LAMP, a division of San Francisco-based Lockton Insurance Brokers, which offers risk management and coverage for religious organizations.
"It's not one of these pervasive things that every organization needs, and the little organizations who have limited money whether their board sees a need or not, they don't want to spend the money," Lipps said.
DAN REYNOLDS is senior editor of Risk & Insurance®.
April 1, 2008
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