Protecting the Sexual Innocence of Children In Youth-Serving Organizations

Cultural Barriers to Protecting Kids

Youth- serving organizations may face many cultural barriers when making a decision to implement a child sexual abuse prevention program or in getting their staff members to report suspected abuse. It's important to recognize these barriers so that you can address them through open discussion with your team. I've provided a list of common barriers below for you to consider. Make note of the ones that apply to your organization, ask others what they think, and begin the dialog about how to overcome these barriers so that you can effectively protect the children in your care.

Potential Cultural Barriers

  • Fear that you will lose a valued employee who is critical to your operation
  • Fear that you will open a can of worms if you report a suspected offender
  • Fear that the accused will find out who reported
  • Fear that you will unearth unknown cases of abuse if you implement a prevention program
  • Fear that your insurance rates will go up if reported abuse is substantiated by the authorities
  • Fear of being sued by the victim’s family and having to pay a settlement fee
  • Fear of being sued by the accused for defamation of character
  • Fear that the families you serve and the community will perceive you have a child sexual abuse problem in the organization if you implement a prevention program
  • Fear of breaking existing confidentiality agreements with previously accused former staff members
  • Focused on the negative impact on the organization’s reputation if word of an allegation gets out—damage control
  • Organization leaders intimidate you into not reporting abuse
  • Denial: the attitude that it can’t happen or doesn’t happen in our organization
  • A belief that you can and/or should handle allegations internally, maybe with campus police but not outside authorities
  • Cognitive dissonance: the inability to believe that something outside of your current view could actually be happening19
  • Mandated reporting is an obligation to report cases where we suspect children are being abused at home but doesn’t apply to suspected abuse within the organization
  • Ignorance or incompetence due to lack the knowledge and training
  • No time and/or no money to implement a prevention program
  • Child sexual abuse prevention is not part of our core com- petencies or program charter. It is not our responsibility.
  • Culture of silence or secrecy
  • Philosophy of forgiveness (particularly present in faith organizations)
  • Good old boy network
  • Following legal advice to be less than forthright
  • Protecting family members or friends who you suspect have broken boundaries
  • Outright cover-up of known sexual abuse
  • Culture of doing the minimum the law requires rather than the maximum the law allows20
  • Focused on preparing your legal defense rather than on uncovering the truth and supporting the victim
  • Taking the side of the accused when allegations arise— being a character witness for them, wearing armbands or t-shirts that show support for the accused, raising money for the defense of the accused
  • It is faster or cheaper to remove an accused staff member through internal agreements than through the legal route
  • Disbelief
  • Accusing the child of lying or assuming children often lie about sexual abuse
  • It is so hard to get a conviction and we’ll be stuck with him. If we transfer him, at least our kids will be safe.21
  • Institutional loyalty22
  • Collegial loyalty: a research study found that only 11 percent of teachers surveyed would report a colleague!23
  • Potential for the state licensing board to suspend or revoke the organization’s license
  • The burden of having to negotiate with the union
  • Putting the rights of adults before the rights of kids: innocent until proven guilty instead of true until proven false
  • Attitude or history of threatening parents for making accusations or asking them to leave the program
  • You think the abuse will stop now that the offender has been confronted. Maybe he even tells you he is sorry for his bad judgment and will never do it again.
  • And my favorite, as shared by Shakeshaft: “’If I reported and I was wrong, I would have ruined the life of another teacher.’ I have never heard a colleague say, ‘If I didn’t report and this person had abused, I’d have ruined the life of a student.’”24


10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17,     18