The scale of activity involving the sexual abuse and exploitation of children is hard for organizations or individuals to truly understand. It is generally agreed that approximately 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before they reach adulthood, meaning there are hundreds of thousands of acts of abuse in the U.S. each year. Experts do not agree on the total number of children who are molested each year because the phenomenon is greatly under-reported. I believe it would be safe to say that several hundred thousand U.S. children are adversely affected by sexual abuse or exploitation each year and the effects upon children can be significant. A study, funded through the National Institute of Drug Abuse found that the victims of abuse (female victims were surveyed) were 2.83 times more likely to develop drug dependence, alcohol dependence and psychological disorders.
Equally shocking, is the number of adults in the U.S. who might sexually abuse a child. In a 2012 study, researchers estimated that approximately 7% of the U.S. adult population had some level of sexual interest in children. By comparison, there are approximately 850,000 registered sex offenders. This means that there are many millions more adults who should not be working with children, than can be successfully screened out by criminal background checks. I hasten to add that conducting a thorough, multi-level, background check is one of the most important steps an organization can take.
For these and other reasons, organizations need a thorough program in place to evaluate any adult employee or volunteer who will be in direct and repetitive contact with the children in the organization’s programs and activities. Such a program would not only address screening, but include updating the organization’s safety-related policies, defined appropriate, inappropriate and prohibited behaviors by adults and youth, a training program for staff, multiple means of reporting concerns, misconduct or suspected abuse, facility assessments and reporting requirements. Youth-serving organizations must keep in mind that by the very nature, they are obligated to ensure that every adult who is given access to children has been screened, trained and is monitored so that the children under the organization’s care are safe.