Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania
All too often society’s most vulnerable citizens – our youth – are abused by the very people who are responsible for their care.
In 2017, over 3,000 children in Pennsylvania were placed in out-of-home juvenile delinquent residential facilities, including group homes. Surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice in a study show the disturbing trend that sexual abuse in these facilities is increasing nationwide.
Staff members who sexually assault youth in their custody usually select the most vulnerable children. Children with a known history of sexual abuse have been found more likely to be victimized by a staff member of a facility. Due to their past trauma of being a victim, and increased fear in reporting their abuse, these victims are also less likely to report the sexual abuse.
Staff members who engage in sexual conduct with a child in their custody are guilty of institutional sexual assault of a minor, regardless of the youth’s alleged consent. This is because the law recognizes the unique power structure between the facility staff members and the residents, and deems that, given their circumstances, youth cannot consent.
When sexual abuse is reported to a facility or institution, only 10% of the allegations are substantiated. Child advocacy groups have argued this is due to inadequate internal investigations being conducted by the very facilities whose staff have already been accused of sexual abuse. Shockingly, the U.S. Department of Justice study found that institutions reported only 36% of all reports of sexual abuse of a youth by a staff member to the authorities. These statistics reveal that these institutions are failing to meet the legal requirements of reporting sexual and physical child abuse to the authorities. The study also found that roughly 20% of all staff who are accused of sexually abusing a youth retain their positions.
Data reveals that those reporting abuse of juveniles by staff members are often the victims or other youth members; staff members are not reporting abuse at as high of a frequency. This data is troubling because it reveals systematic failures at these institutions. These facilities are not properly overseeing their employees or educating their staff on the reporting requirements for child abuse.
How can we fight back against sexual abuse?
When sexual abuse of a youth occurs at any institution, whether it be a state-run or privately-owned facility, the party responsible for overseeing that institution can, and should, be held legally responsible.
Facilities and institutions can be liable for negligent hiring by failing to do a thorough background check of their employees, and they can be liable for failing to adequately supervise their employees. Sexual abuse of a youth at an institution that is meant to be helping those minors is a gross failure on the part of that facility.