While the effects of sexual misconduct can devastate the victim and the victim’s family, the damage does not stop there. Just one incident or allegation of sexual abuse can destroy the trust, credibility and reputation of an organization for years.
Further complicating an incident of abuse or molestation are the legal costs of a lawsuit, which can be significant. The challenge for organizations is to set up safeguards to reduce the likelihood of this type of incident.
Tighter requirements around coverage
Because of changes in the cultural understanding of sexual abuse and the legal landscape, and because of the increased frequency of sexual abuse claims, the insurance industry has tightened its requirements around sexual abuse and molestation coverage. Social inflation in jury verdicts and settlements has resulted in an increase in claims as well as an increase in severity of the claims presented.
It has now become standard for the first legal demand to equal the available policy limits. Insurance carriers are adapting by lowering sub limits related to this risk and tightening the requirements for this coverage.
This reaction is very similar to what the industry did in response to increased losses related to large passenger vans 15 years ago. It is now common for carriers to require detailed documentation of an organization’s abuse prevention program in order to maintain coverage. While this process can be time-consuming and challenging, it places both the church and the carrier in a better position to defend the organization against claims.
The effects of expanded reporting requirements, statutes of limitations
Part of what is driving the increase in claims and the industry’s response is a change in legislation related to how and when lawsuits can be brought related to alleged abuse. States across the country have passed or are currently passing legislation that expands both mandatory reporting requirements and the statutes of limitations for filing abuse claims.
Some states now allow 25 years or more for claims to be brought. Others have effectively eliminated the statute of limitations, allowing for claims to be brought for the lifetime of the survivor.”
The legislative trend expands the list of individuals who are mandatory reporters. In many states, any individual over 18 is now a mandatory reporter. Other states have effectively accomplished this by passing legislation that mandates that any person who interacts with children as part of their job or volunteer opportunity is a mandatory reporter.
The majority of states have also expanded the time allowed under state statute in which a survivor can bring suit related to alleged abuse. Some states now allow 25 years or more for claims to be brought. Others have effectively eliminated the statute of limitations, allowing for claims to be brought for the lifetime of the survivor.
Additionally, some states have also opened a window in which claims can be brought for abuse alleged to have happened in the past but had been otherwise barred because of the statute of limitations. What this means for organizations is that they need to clearly document all of their abuse prevention efforts in preparation for a potential future claim.
Part of the challenge in defending a claim is being able to document the prevention efforts, including background checks, operational safeguards and training at the time of alleged abuse. Picture your insurance carrier and legal counsel trying to piece together exactly who was trained and background-checked in your organization for this calendar year when a claim is brought in 2046.
At GuideOne Insurance, we have a relationship with MinistrySafe to assist our policyholders in developing a comprehensive abuse prevention program.
Acknowledge abuse risks online, too
To further complicate abuse prevention efforts, many organizations have expanded their programming efforts for children in online environments. These programs have been effective in reaching children at a time when school closures and other measures have left them isolated.
The challenge is that abusers have responded to this shift, as well. What your organization uses as an effective tool for ministry, offenders will use to build a relationship with a child that they intend to sexualize.
Your abuse prevention program should now include details about how and under what circumstances staff and volunteers may use electronic platforms and social media to interact with children. There should be safeguards and limitations in place to prevent the online grooming of potential victims.
All of these changes can seem daunting, and there is no doubt the response to this requires significant effort. That is why GuideOne Insurance has put together resources in a central online location to develop and enhance your program. For further information, please go to www.guideone.com/sexual-abuse-prevention.