According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, in 2011, at least 1,669 children were maltreated by a foster parent. This maltreatment includes neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse. However, there were 41,798 cases where the relationship of the perpetrator to the victim was unknown. Furthermore, this only includes cases that were reported to the child's local Child Protective Services Agency. As such, it is possible that this number is even higher than reported. Each county has a local child welfare agency that is in charge of placing children in foster care. Unfortunately, these agencies sometimes place children in a situation that is worse than the situation they are leaving behind. If the local child welfare agency knows that there are problems with a particular foster care placement, such as if one of the foster parents has previously been accused of sexual abuse of a child, and place a child there anyway, then the agency can be liable for negligently placing the child in that situation. Sometimes, the problem is not with the foster parents, but is rather with one of the foster children. If the agency knows that the foster child they are placing has a history of sexually abusing other children, and it places that child in a home that has children living there, including other foster children, then that agency can be held liable in the event that the newly placed child abuses one of the other children.
Sadly, people with mental handicaps, like psychiatric patients, are often targets of sexual assault and sexual abuse. As some of the most vulnerable among us, they are unfortunately seen as easy prey by sexual predators. Mental patients can also be unstable, and may pose a risk to others. As a result, mental health care providers, like therapists and psychiatrists, have a special duty to protect their patients and third parties from harm. In most states, including Pennsylvania, mental health care providers have a special duty to warn third parties of harm posed by their patients. If, for instance, a mentally ill person tells their therapist they plan to hurt someone, like an ex-boyfriend, the therapist must tell the ex-boyfriend. This duty arises when the patient makes a specific threat of serious, imminent injury against a specific person. If the mental health care provider fails to warn the potential victim, like the ex-boyfriend, they may be held liable. The issue of mental health care provider liability is slightly complicated in Pennsylvania, however, by the existence of the Mental Health Procedures Act. Passed in 1976, the Act gives all mental health care providers limited immunity from lawsuits. To overcome this immunity and recover civil damages, the mental health provider must have acted with "gross negligence." Gross negligence is a legal term that requires a defendant have acted with "substantially more than ordinary carelessness, inadvertence, laxity, or indifference." In other words, the defendant's behavior "must be flagrant, grossly deviating from the ordinary standard of care."
While the majority of child abuse occurs in the home, child abuse frequently occurs in other situations, such as at daycare. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, in 2011, at least 2,474 children were maltreated by daycare providers. This maltreatment includes neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse. However, there were 41,798 cases where the relationship of the perpetrator to the victim was unknown. Furthermore, this only includes cases that were reported to the child's local Child Protective Services Agency. As such, it is possible that this number is even higher than reported. With respect to daycares, each state has laws that set forth provisions that daycare providers must abide by in order to be licensed by the state. These laws usually apply to larger daycare centers rather than home centers that only watch a handful of children. Violation of any of these laws amounts to negligence as a matter of law, and a daycare center owner can be held liable if the violation of one of these laws leads to a child being sexually abused. Even without these laws, a daycare center operator can still be held liable for sexual abuse of the children in his or her charge. If the abuse is committed by an employee, volunteer, or family member of the daycare center operator, then liability can be based on the operator's negligence in supervising the perpetrator, if the operator knew of or should have known of a reason to supervise the perpetrator. If the abuse is committed by an employee, the daycare center operator can also be held liable for negligently hiring the employee if a background check would have revealed something that would disqualify the employee from working at a daycare center. Finally, the day care center operator can be held liable for failing to fire an employee after the operator learns that the employee has abused one of the children. If the employee continues to abuse that child, or abuses other children, then the daycare center operator could be liable to the children who were abused after he or she knew about the initial abuse.
Lawrence W. Joynes, a former Montgomery County, Maryland school teacher was indicted several days ago in connection with the alleged sexual abuse of 14 elementary school girls and rape of a middle school student during his long career with the school system. Joynes allegedly posed the girls in sexually suggestive ways, and recorded and photographed them. Apparently, a number of the backgrounds were of a Montgomery County classroom. At this point, it is unknown what, if anything, school officials knew about Joynes behavior. It will be interesting to see how the criminal trial unfolds.
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Thomas J. Curran, a former teacher at the Swain School in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was recently charged with the sexual assault of an 11-year-old boy in New Jersey. Swain also worked at the American Boychoir School in Plainsboro, New Jersey. Prosecutors are already expecting more of Curran's victims to step forward. It is unknown at this point, however, whether Curran's victims were students at the Swain School, or the American Boychoir School. If they were, the victims may be able to pursue civil claims against those institutions.
There is pending legislation in Pennsylvania that will abolish the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse. This legislation is necessary because many victims of childhood sexual abuse do not come forward until many years later, and sometimes decades after the abuse. This bill would also introduce a two-year time period during which survivors of childhood sexual abuse, whose claims were already time-barred, could come forward and file a civil suit against their abusers or any entity that allowed the abuse to occur. Several other states, including California have passed statutes that included this so-called "look back" provision, which led to numerous suits being filed against the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, as a result of what occurred in California, the Catholic Church has been lobbying against this bill by stating that it is a "money-grab" and "evidence of anti-Catholic bias." As of now, the bill has not been passed or even voted on. There is always a hope that this bill will pass, and victims who have been shut out of the courthouse will finally be able to seek justice for their abuse.
Sexual abuse or harassment in schools can occur between students or between a teacher or other school employee and a student. Both types of sexual abuse or harassment can be pursued under Title IX of the United States Code. Under Title IX, recipients of federal funding, such as public schools, can be liable for student-on-student sexual harassment. In order to properly allege a Title IX sexual harassment claim for student-on-student sexual harassment, a victim must show that a sexually hostile educational environment existed; actual notice of the sexually hostile environment was provided to an appropriate person who had the authority to take corrective measures; and the school responded to the harassment in a way that amounts to deliberate indifference. A sexually hostile educational environment exists when a victim is subjected to severe, pervasive and objectively offensive sexual harassment. When the sexual abuse or harassment is committed by a teacher, a victim can also pursue a claim under Title IX. It is still necessary for the victim to show notice to an appropriate person and deliberate indifference by the school. However, rather than proving a sexually hostile environment, a victim will need to show that quid pro quo sexual harassment existed. This can be shown by proving that the victim belonged to a protected group; was subject to unwelcome sexual harassment; the harassment was based on sex; a tangible educational claim resulted from his or her rejection of the sexual harassment; and the harasser is an employee of the school.