Sex Abuse In Treatment Programs: “Volatile Mix” Blamed


The sexual assaults of six children in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County group homes and treatment facilities have led to criminal charges against workers in the past three years, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the last of a series. An unknown number of other children were molested by workers, but criminal charges were not filed. Those are just the cases in which children came forward. No one knows how many times they didn’t, not in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, or the nation. The U.S. Justice Department conceded that after it surveyed inmates and juvenile delinquents in prisons and reform schools, seeking information on sexual assaults. “Administrative records alone cannot provide reliable estimates of sexual violence,” said the July report. “Due to fear of reprisal from perpetrators, a code of silence among inmates, personal embarrassment and lack of trust in staff, victims are often reluctant to report incidents.”

Group homes and reform schools filled with disturbed teenagers and inexperienced workers can be a volatile mix. To prevent sexual abuse in those settings, institutions must take aggressive steps, including intensive education of workers and children, experts say. Critics of governmental oversight of the child welfare system say licensing agencies need to be much more vigilant in ensuring that institutions actually take those steps. David Finkelhor of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire says, “I am not sure staff get enough training or have requisite personal skills to anticipate this and not get drawn into the allure of that this kind of stuff has. I think we underestimate the challenge that there is for staff. I think it is just inevitable when working with people in close relationships in an environment that involves residential settings with beds and toilets and lots of intimate contact that these kinds of attractions come up and crushes occur and [there are] exaggerations and preoccupations.”


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