Child Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania Youth Organizations
Youth organizations in Pennsylvania have long provided important opportunities for our youngsters to grow, develop, and enrich their lives.
Unfortunately, with all the positive stories of success, there are also troubling tales of abuse.
Child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania youth organizations is more common than most of us imagine. Disturbing revelations have followed those from Penn State, the Catholic Church and other organizations, which have paid millions in compensation to sexual abuse victims in recent years.
The devastating emotional and psychological effects for victims are often experienced long after the physical abuse ends.
At Andreozzi & Foote, our child abuse lawyers are committed to providing support for victims, while holding perpetrators and the institutions that harbor them accountable for their actions.
UPDATE: HB 963 to extend the statute of limitations on sexual abuse
Youth organizations in Pennsylvania
Young people in Pennsylvania have grown up with institutions like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Little League, and more.
For generations, our youth have enjoyed the benefits of involvement in such organizations, helping to build community involvement, self-sufficiency and civic-mindedness.
Unfortunately, the nature of these organizations has also made them a target for sexual predators – those who prey on the vulnerabilities of children and who see opportunities to exploit them in a trusting environment.
Those who have been victims of sexual abuse in youth organizations deserve healing, closure and justice – wherever the abuse occurred.
Boy scouts of America sexual abuse
The Boy Scouts of America is a great American institution that countless families around Pennsylvania have always looked up to.
So, when news broke in recent years that allegations of sexual abuse and a cascade of lawsuits had the organization filing for bankruptcy, it was a great shock to many.
In times gone by, U.S. organizations were largely shielded from historic abuse claims by statutes of limitations. As more states, including Pennsylvania, recently lifted limitations that prevented victims from coming forward, this has opened up the possibility of attaining the justice they deserve.
Some estimates put liabilities for lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of America in excess of a billion dollars nationwide, with thousands of men coming forward across the country.
The organization acknowledges that about 12,000 boys made accusations of sexual abuse while in the Boy Scouts, mainly before the 1990s. Perpetrators were removed from the organization but not always reported to law enforcement- so their identities are unknown to the public.
By filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the organization can continue operating and settle all claims in one settlement, depriving abuse victims of their day in court to tell their story.
This is, perhaps, another example of a youth organization protecting its own interests rather than the interests of the children they purport to nurture and care for.
Sexual abuse in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
Big Brothers Big Sisters is an organization that was established to develop and nurture young people in 1904.
It is known for its mentoring network, where children aged five and above (“Littles”) are partnered with adult volunteers in their community (“Bigs”).
Despite its good work over the years, the scandal of sexual abuse haunts this organization too, with sexual predators exploiting opportunities to gain access to young victims.
Many of the typical “grooming” behaviors practiced by sexual predators have been facilitated in Big Brothers Big Sisters because of the failure to put effective safeguards in place.
Stringent vetting and supervisory processes for staff and volunteers are necessary for such organizations. Big Brothers Big Sisters frequently failed in these key areas, allowing some sexual predators to gain easy access to their victims.
Claims of child sexual abuse against individuals within the Big Brother Big Sister organization date as far back as the 1980s. In many cases, the leadership was aware that problems existed but did little to investigate them.
As is common with other youth, religious and educational organizations in Pennsylvania, the problem was exacerbated by repeated attempts to cover up accusations of abuse and allow those accused to escape a criminal investigation and punishment.
This policy only serves to facilitate further abuse, which is unacceptable for an organization that parents entrust their children to and which purports to facilitate beneficial interactions between adults and children.
Child sexual abuse in sports organizations
Youth sports organizations are a “magnet” for sexual predators, as they can provide access to an almost unlimited number of youths who are taught to place their trust in the adults supervising them.
Sports are competitive by nature and, for many ambitious youngsters, the aim to be the best and to win trophies trumps everything.
This is fertile ground for practicing the “grooming” strategies employed by predators. Many children (and their parents) let their guards down and allow behavior that may otherwise be questioned.
The trust placed in coaches by parents is especially harmful, as it allows abuse to go under the radar of those most likely to put a stop to it. Parents may become so obsessed with their children winning at all costs that they do not recognize the signs of abuse.
Close relationships are seen as a necessary aspect of the training regimen. Children are taught to follow their coach’s instructions and complaining is often frowned upon – a child can be dropped from the team if they fall out of favor.
So, sleepovers, one-on-one training, excessive physical contact, and so on, can all be explained away by coaches/mentors of children in competition.
Sexual predators have used this type of environment to facilitate their crimes because they know that if they cross the line and get called out, they have a ready-made excuse.
If a suspected child abuser is asked to leave, the failure to file a police report means that a coach can simply “move on” to the next youth sports organization and continue the same behavior.
This “passing the trash” policy also applies to schools, religious organizations, etc. and is symptomatic of the child abuse problem in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
More victims of sexual abuse in youth sports organizations have come forward in Pennsylvania since well-publicized national cases like the USA gymnastics national team doctor (Larry Nasser) case hit the headlines.
The Nasser case should be a lesson that it is not only coaches that require regular vetting in youth sports organizations – all adults who supervise, monitor, coach, or advise children must be subject to the same checks.
Protect your child and others from sexual predators
Youth organizations must adopt policies that guarantee a safe environment for children, including the following:
- Careful screening of employees/volunteers before hiring
- Introducing, documenting, and enforcing strict codes of conduct
- Closely monitoring staff/volunteer behavior
- Limiting one-on-one interactions where no other adults are present
- Introducing a clear process for reporting abuse
- Investigating complaints promptly and disciplining undesirable behavior
- Creating environments that deter abuse e.g., using security cameras, etc.
- Providing ongoing training for staff in recognizing the signs of abuse
- Reporting cases to the relevant authorities and following up
Youth organizations that fail in their duty of care to children must be held accountable for their negligence.
This is not only important for seeking closure for the victims – it can make more organizations think twice before condoning abuse or looking the other way.
If your child has been sexually abused at a youth organization in Pennsylvania, your family can seek justice with the aid of the child sexual abuse lawyers at Andreozzi + Foote.
Please call 1 (877)-214-3238 for a free consultation, during which we will evaluate your case.
All the information you provide will be treated confidentially, including your identity.
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