Policies and Screening Prevent Sexual Abuse

Every April individuals, organizations, and communities are invited to intentionally focus their resources, strengths, influence, and passion towards a critical issue that impacts us all – National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the United States annually[1], with sexual abuse affecting an estimated one in four girls and one in six boys by the time they reach the age of 18[2].

We at Praesidium believe organizations – schools, churches, youth serving programs, camps and all programs serving vulnerable populations – can prevent sexual abuse from happening. But we also know that abuse prevention is no small feat. To truly prevent sexual abuse from occurring within an organization, we must believe that everyone is responsible for protecting our youth, elderly, and adults with disabilities.  We must generate ongoing awareness to the issue and prioritize safety at every level of the organization.

Managing the risk of sexual abuse takes a sustained, ongoing commitment to protecting those in your care. This April, Praesidium encourages you to take the next step towards a safer environment. Engage with your leadership. Collaborate with your community partners. Educate your parents/guardians and those you serve. Ignite a culture of safety by becoming a champion of sexual abuse prevention.

Start Preventing Sexual Abuse

25 years of experience has taught us that offenders are attracted to organizations that serve youth and vulnerable adults.  By working or volunteering in these environments, they think they will have unlimited access.  If you know these people want to work for your organization, what can you do to keep them out?

First, you can create policies that send a very clear zero tolerance message.  Then, you let applicants know about these policies from the very beginning.  You encourage applicants to self-select out because they know that their actions will not go unnoticed in your culture.  If the policies don’t deter the applicant, then you enact your first line of defense – a strict screening and selection process designed to screen out offenders.

Creating Policies for Abuse Prevention

Setting a policy that your organization has zero tolerance for abuse establishes a cornerstone for abuse prevention practices. Policies, by their nature as defined standards, establish the foundational framework of what your organization believes in. By developing clear, comprehensive policies that define what is and is not appropriate, your organization can enable employees and volunteers to look for red flag behaviors and be more empowered to prevent a suspicious or inappropriate situation from escalating to abuse.

Screening Practices to Prevent Abuse

Screening and selection practices are your first line of defense against individuals who seek to access the youth that you serve. Background checks are essential and an industry standard, but most adult offenders do not have a criminal history[3]. Therefore, organizations must also rely on other means of learning knowable information to identify high-risk applicants, such as through carefully worded applications, behaviorally-based interviews, and personal and professional reference checks. When high-risk characteristics present themselves, we need to have a clear process for screening these individuals out of our applicant pool.

Policies and screening practices present a worthy starting place for organizations to address abuse prevention but they are only two of the eight operations within the Praesidium Safety Equation. In honor of Child Abuse Prevention month, Praesidium will be posting an April Blog series highlighting each of the eight operations and providing tips for prevention. Come back next week where we will focus on training & monitoring and Supervision.




[1] http://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/media-room/media-kit/national-statistics-child-abuse

[2] Finkelhor, D., Hotaling, G., Lewis, I.A., & Smith, C. (1990). Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence, characteristcs and risk factors. Child Abuse and Neglect, 14(1), p. 19-28.

[3] Mercado, C., Jeglic, E., Markus, K., Hanson, R., & Levenson, R. (2013) Sex Offender Management, Treatment, And Civil Commitment: An Evidence Based Analysis Aimed at Reducing Sexual Violence, p. 63.