Standards of Care for Sexual Abuse

A Framework for Understanding

The basis for determining whether or not an individual behaved in a responsible manner is normally to compare the actions of the individual in question with what would be expected of a reasonable person at the time. The difficulty with actions that relate to sexual abuse is that the development of information that is available regarding the problem has increased so dramatically in the past 20 years that most people are unaware of how the problem was viewed 20, 30 or 60 years ago. This lack of information leads them to believe that what is considered reasonable by today’s standards should be applied to the decisions and actions of the past. The inaccuracy can be corrected by carefully defining the standards of care according to the knowledge and guidance that were available to decision-makers during the timeframe in question.

Standards of care with respect to sexual abuse may be defined through comparison with the following benchmarks:
• Federal and State laws that address sexual crimes, sexual abuse of children, sexual offenders, reporting laws, and access to criminal records.
• Federal and State regulations and guidelines for organizations that serve children and youths. For example, federal guidelines for public schools and state child care licensing standards.
• State of professional knowledge regarding the specific form of abuse, such as stranger assault, incest, acquaintance abuse, child to child abuse, and other forms of abuse. Knowledge areas include but are not limited to prevalence, damage to victims, and treatment of offenders.
• State of public knowledge and general awareness regarding the specific form of abuse.
• Resources available to assist organizations in the prevention and response to the specific form of abuse, such as professional journal articles, books, guidelines and sample policies offered by foundations or associations.
• Practices and standards maintained by similar organizations and programs.
The principle to follow is that decision-makers in organizations can only utilize knowledge that was known and guidelines that were established.