Have zero tolerance with protection rules

Implementing policies to protect children from abuse and then enforcing them with zero tolerance will achieve two things, says Julie Logan, president and CEO of Darkness to Light, a national non-profit dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse, based in Charleston, SC.

First, it eliminates having employees make judgment calls about what is "bad" behavior versus a minor mistake, she says. Second, it puts potential abusers on notice that they are being watched.

"Abusers are not easily identified, and almost every time you hear of someone being caught, the people around them are shocked. They say he was a great doctor, the last person they would have expected to do something like that," she says. "For that reason, education is important so that everyone understands what grooming behavior looks like and why policies are what they are. One of the first warning signs a perpetrator exhibits is breaking the rules."

For example, a hospital might have a rule prohibiting an adult other than the parent being alone in a room with a child. If the staff members do not understand the reason for that rule, they might be lax in reporting violations, Logan says. "This person is not going to seem like a creep. They're going to have the best intentions, and everyone thinks they're the best person on the team," she explains. "So when they violate the rule about one-on-one contact, everybody thinks it's just a slip-up and not worth reporting. But there has to be zero tolerance for breaking the rules. You want an atmosphere in which people don't have to make a judgment call; if you break the rule, I have to report it, period."

Studies show that there are an estimated 42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse. About 500,000 babies born in the United States each year will be sexually abused before they reach age 18. About 95% of abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows and trusts; and 73% of children do not report the abuse until years afterward, if they report it at all.

The Bradley case, other healthcare cases, and The Pennsylvania State University scandal involving coach Jerry Sandusky are bringing more attention to the risk of sexual abuse, Logan says. "I definitely think the healthcare industry would be wise to get ahead of this instead of being the next Sandusky," she says.

Logan urges risk managers to visit the Darkness to Light web site at http://www.d2l.org for educational materials and other information.

"We are just starting to see some big hospital systems engage with us and be part of their prevention policies," she says. "That is either an indicator that everyone else is handling it really well, or hospitals are starting to say that they need to improve their prevention efforts. I suspect the latter."