Child Sexual Abuse Response Plan
The Church’s Legal Vulnerability Here’s why churches are susceptible.
By Richard R. Hammar
Churches have unique features that can make them susceptible to incidents of child molestation.
1. Trust. Churches tend to be trusting and unsuspecting institutions. Even when questions are raised about a worker’s conduct, church leaders may ignore the evidence rather than question the worker’s character or motives.
2. Need. Most churches struggle to get adequate help for children and youth programs. Recruiting nursery workers, for example, can become an unending effort. Turnover among volunteer workers is also high. A willing volunteer worker provides welcome relief.
3. Lack of screening. Some churches do nothing to screen youth workers. Complete strangers may be accepted to work with children without any investi- gation whatever.
4. Opportunity. Churches provide ample opportu- nities for unsupervised, close personal contact between adults and children. This risk increases dramatically for overnight activities.
5. Access. The Boy Scouts, Big Brothers, and similar organizations have instituted comprehensive pro- grams to reduce the risk of child molestation. Child molesters are attracted to an institution in which they have immediate access to potential victims in an atmosphere of complete trust — the church.
The Response of the Insurance Industry No one evaluates risk better than insurance compa- nies. Some companies are reducing the coverage they provide for child abuse, and in some cases are excluding it entirely. Policies exclude damages based on intentional, criminal conduct. Your church board
should immediately review your church liability policy to determine whether you have any coverage for acts of molestation occurring on your property or during your activities, and if so, whether your cover- age has been limited in any way. Many churches will discover that they either have no coverage for such incidents or that the policy limits have been signifi- cantly reduced. If you fit within either category, the procedures recommended in this book are of even greater relevance. Often, increased levels of cover- age are available to churches who implement a prevention program.
The Legal Environment The number of lawsuits brought against churches as a result of child sexual abuse has risen substantially over the past several decades. Various factors have been cited for this increase including the following:
1. Media attention. The media has focused atten- tion on child molestation cases, and especially on those cases involving church workers. Often, front page publicity is given to these cases, and to the astronomical jury verdicts that sometimes are awarded. The possibility of a huge verdict lures some victims into the courtroom, although most are seek- ing justice.
2. Statute of limitations. Many states have greatly liberalized the period of time (the “statute of limita- tions”) during which molestation victims must file a lawsuit. This has enabled victims to sue churches many years after an incident of molestation.
3. Theories of liability. Innovative theories of lia- bility have been introduced by plaintiffs’ attorneys that have assisted molestation victims in recovering money damages.
Christianity Today | ChurchLawAndTax.com
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