There is, of course, no benchmark of acceptability when it comes to sexual abuse or sexual assault. It shouldn’t happen to anyone, and one time is one time too many. Unfortunately, it frequently happens in places where we wouldn’t expect—and sometimes, as in the case of a rash of incidents involving the YMCA, it points to a more widespread problem.
In August of 2019, as USA Today reports, a nineteen-year-old YMCA worker in Indiana pled guilty to molesting 20 children ages 3-8 over a 17-month period. The teen had been arrested two years prior on accusations of inappropriately touching two girls on the YMCA premises, but he also confessed to further counts that allegedly took place at a local elementary school, where he worked as a teacher’s assistant. The defendant now faces between 2 and 120 years in prison for his crimes.
Earlier in August, the athletic director of a YMCA in Iowa was arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing a girl in her home. In July, another teen was arrested in Wisconsin on charges of first-degree sexual assault of a 5-year-old under his care in the childcare area of another YMCA. And reports of sexual abuse have been investigated in at least three Texas summer camps administered by the organization.
The sexual abuse and assault attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC have experience prosecuting cases involving large organizations, such as the YMCA. If you or your child was abused or assaulted, we invite you to contact our office for a free review of your legal rights and options.
Examining the Problem: Sexual Predators Attracted to YMCA’s
Under scrutiny and faced with numerous lawsuits over the years, the YMCA began an initiative earlier this year to raise awareness of child sexual abuse in general and help parents to know the warning signs. This initiative, however, fails to address the greater question of how so many cases of sexual abuse have managed to occur nationally in an organization billed to be a “safe space.” While we wouldn’t presume to make allegations on a systemic issue with the national organization without proper proof, we can say that sexual abuse is possible even when organizations like the “Y” seem to be taking every precaution against it. Some common reasons why:
- Sexual predators gravitate to where children are. A family-oriented organization like YMCA can be a prime target, much the same as a community playground.
- Many predators have no prior criminal record. A perpetrator must be caught and convicted to be added to the Sex Offenders Registry. If the predator has no prior convictions, they may pass a background check the same as anyone else.
- Sexual predators look like everyone else. The idea that we can identify a predator by appearance or some sort of “creepiness” factor is a myth. In many cases, it can be the person you (or the employer) least suspect.
- Parents and children may let their guard down. In organizations like the Y, a local church, community center or other family-oriented institution, parents and children may be less on guard because they feel a false sense of safety.
Common Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse
Quite often, sexual abuse continues unabated for long periods of time because children don’t always know how to speak up. Sometimes their abuser may threaten them or their family with harm; at other times, children are manipulated into keeping “our little secret” because they don’t know better. For that reason, parents and organization employees should be aware of some of the common possible indicators that a child is being abused:
- Nightmares and sleep problems
- Reversion to earlier behaviors (e.g., bedwetting, potty accidents)
- Mood swings or short tempers that appear out of character
- Unexplained fearfulness
- Drop in grades
- Mimicking sexual behaviors in game play or pretending; shows a knowledge of sexual behaviors that aren’t age-appropriate
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained money or gifts in the child’s possession
- Discoloration, discharge or pain around genitals
Dealing With the Aftermath
Sexual abuse victims typically face a long road of recovery, and some may never fully be the same. For children who are abused, their sense of innocence is taken from them, and if the pattern of abuse starts early and continues for years, it can warp the child’s sense of what is “normal.” Abuse victims may struggle with a wide range of issues as they approach adulthood, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, unabated anger, feelings of guilt, withdrawing socially, difficulty forming lasting connections, sexual problems and more. Many victims display a vulnerability that increases the likelihood of becoming repeat victims. A few victims will one day become perpetrators.
Preventing or reducing these long-term effects may require the victim to undergo intensive therapy and/or medical care, sometimes lasting for years. The toll on a family may be felt emotionally, psychologically and even financially.
What are the Options for Victims and Their Families?
Since sexual abuse is a crime, the first order of business when abuse is discovered is typically to bring the perpetrator to justice via criminal charges. In criminal cases, the state is the plaintiff, and victims and their families may be asked to testify in court as witnesses for the prosecution. Sometimes, this process can re-open wounds and make the victim feel victimized all over again, but some willingly go through the process in hope that it will stop the perpetrator from hurting someone else.
Criminal charges aside, victims and their families may also be entitled to compensation by filing one or more civil personal injury lawsuits. The perpetrator should be legally liable for obvious reasons, but if the sexual abuse took place on the premises of an organization like the YMCA, the organization may also be held to account for any negligence that may have enabled the crime. A personal injury settlement may be used to cover the costs of long-term psychological care, pay any medical bills and compensate for pain and suffering, which are both likely abundant. In cases of extreme negligence, the court may also assess punitive damages.
The recurring incidents of sexual abuse at YMCA facilities doesn’t necessarily mean your local “Y” is unsafe. It should, however, serve to make parents more aware of the issues and dangers so that they become the first line of defense for their children’s safety. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their screening policies and hiring practices, and err on the side of caution when you feel a sense of distrust about leaving a child with someone. Most importantly, if you notice the possible signs of abuse, take action quickly to stop it from happening again, and take steps to hold accountable the people responsible.
Don’t go it Alone
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC has experience prosecuting claims and lawsuits involving sexual abuse in institutional settings. Our attorneys have successfully obtained compensation for individuals to provide for their past and future needs. If you believe that you have a sex abuse case involving a YMCA facility, we invite you to contact our office for a confidential consultation.