Unmasking Sexual Exploitation in Trusted Institutions
Recently a principal in Cleveland was found guilty of installing hidden cameras in the bathroom and locker room to film the elementary students in secret. Authorities discovered that he had been recording the girls for at least six years. As shocking as this case is for the community, it’s not an isolated one. There are also other high-profile sexual exploitation and sexual abuse cases that have drawn the attention of the nation, including ones that included high-visibility names like Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein.
Studies indicate that an alarming number of instances of sexual abuse occur in youth-serving organizations like schools, sports clubs, and religious groups – 91% of which is perpetrated by an individual who is trusted by the victim or their family. Usually seen as “role models”, these abusers pretend to care for the victim, gain their trust, and isolate them from their peers and families by creating a façade of a nurturing environment. No wonder so many guardians end up overlooking the signs of abuse – after all, these institutions are where you are supposed to feel the safest!
The truth is, regardless of your gender or how old you are or where you come from, you can be subjected to abuse and/or assault anywhere, anytime. Here are some places where it is has been well-documented:
Child Care Centers
Something as benign and necessary as, say, comforting a child or changing a diaper, can provide cover for predators to take advantage of kids. More than 55,000 children are abused sexually each year in daycare, preschool, and other similar settings as per the Child Protective Services (CPS); and more than 90% of these victims know their perpetrator.
And since young children are not able to express what might be happening to them – they may not even have developed the vocabulary to do so! – the abuse can go unnoticed for years. Child abusers can be very manipulative as well, using tactics like grooming children with attention and gifts, or threatening them to keep silent. It doesn’t help that many daycares don’t run their staff through detailed background checks as they should.
Schools, colleges, and universities have been common sites for abuse and harassment. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that one in five women and one in 16 men are assaulted while in college. In most cases, the perpetrator is someone known to the victim, like be a fellow student, a teacher, or a staff member. The problem is so prevalent that in college settings, there is a popular term – “red zone” – to refer to the first few months of the first year, where freshmen are at a higher risk.
Even more unfortunate is that a majority of victims do not report their assault because of shame and fear of not being believed; some remain uncertain about what even constitutes sexual assault so they fail to recognize themselves as the victim of it.
A survey by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment at work; and by “work”, we mean corporate buildings, factories, warehouses, retail stores, restaurants, and any other place of employment. In offices, inappropriate comments here and there, advances from colleagues or superiors, or assault during company events are more common that many realize.
If you have ever worked in a bar, hotel, or restaurant for an extended period, chances are, you have faced some kind of harassment either from a customer, a manager, or a co-worker. Tips-based jobs are especially notorious for making employees feel obliged that they have to tolerate abusive behavior. Even nurses and other hospital staff may experience harassment from patients.
The harasser in these situations is almost always someone in a position of power, but fellow workers and clients/customers can also perpetrate it. The EEOC reports that approximately 75% of victims never formally file a report due to fear of retaliation from the higher-ups.
The Catholic Church has been in the spotlight for widespread cases of sexual abuse for decades. In 2020, more than 4,200 allegations of abuse of minors by Catholic clergy were reported. The allegations were made against 2,458 priests, 31 deacons, and 282 unknown clerics over the past several years. A Pew Research survey revealed that about nine in ten US adults, including 95% of Catholics, have heard at least a little about recent reports of sexual abuse and misconduct by Catholic priests and bishops but to most Catholics, their church is special and focusing on the bible is the main focus..
Of course, the issue is not confined to the Catholic Church. There is undeniable evidence of a pattern of institutional sexual abuse (and protection of abusers) in different branches of Christianity, cults, sectarian movements, Hindu ashrams, US mosques, and orthodox Jewish schools.
The high-profile USA Gymnastics scandal – where more than 265 women came forward with accusation of assault against Larry Nassar, the national team doctor – have brought this issue to light. Investigators found that Nassar abused athletes for at least 14 years under the guise of medical treatment, with many of his victims being minors.
This scandal is considered one of the largest in sports history, and further established that athletes (especially minors) are particularly vulnerable due to their aspirations and the power dynamics in this world. The nature of sports, with close coach-athlete relationships, intense training environments, and sometimes a culture that prioritizes success over athlete’s well-being, can unfortunately create situations where abuse might occur by the coaches, trainers, or senior athletes.
Given the fact that hospitals, nursing homes, and mental health clinics are meant to be safe spaces for healing, it is disturbing how vulnerable patients become easy targets for abusers in these environments.
Sexual abuse in care settings can take a number of forms; one study found that inappropriate touching constituted 33% of the abuses, followed by sodomy at 31%, rape at 16%, and child molestation at 14%. Some physicians are known to use their authority to coerce or manipulate patients – the case of Dr. Robert Hadden, a former obstetrician-gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, comes to mind. He assaulted thousands of female patients between 1980s and 2012 before someone finally took action.
Exploitation of patients by hospital workers has actually been recognized as a very common, “likely-to-happen” hazard, with some hospital policies inadvertently increasing this danger. For example, some care facilities still do not conduct thorough background checks on tier staff and end up hiring people with a history of predatory behavior.
Prisons and Other Correctional Facilities
At this point, it has become a popular movie trope to show inmates – especially those who are young, mentally ill, or identified as LGBTQ+ - being sexually assaulted due to their perceived weakness or lack of connections within the prison. But it’s not fictional at all.
The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) staff were recently accused of molesting female inmates in at least two-thirds of federal prisons, with a total of 5,415 cases opened against BOP staff for such abuses. Another study of almost 7,000 inmates in 12 state prisons found that 21% of assaults were committed by prison staff, and 19% by other inmates. This picture is no less grim in juvenile facilities. Federal Bureau has just released data that there are 1762 confirmed cases of youth being assaulted/abused in juvenile centers, for which male staffers accounted for 71% of the perpetrators while female staffers accounted for 29% for the same.
Even with laws like the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) designed to protect inmates, most do not report it because they fear retaliation, both from their abusers and sometimes from the staff if the abuser is a staff member.
The military takes great pride in their distinct hierarchy and a culture that values toughness. This can be good, but sometimes, it can put people in higher ranks in the position to exploit their authority over lower-ranking service members. Between 2020 and 2021 alone, the US army saw a 25% spike in the number of reported sexual assaults; this includes the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The Pentagon’s latest report says that there were 7,378 rape cases in just 2022. A particularly alarming fact is that one in every 10 female sailors has experienced unwanted sexual advances in the line of their duty.
However, despite the increase in documented cases, the number of prosecutions has declined from 68% in 2012 to 37% in 2022. Knowing that their case will likely never go to trial plus their reputation might be targeted, many survivors are understandably reluctant to take legal action.
Residential Care Facilities
If you have a loved one who lives in a nursing home or group home, and you notice them developing anxiety of depression that they never had before, or you spot any unexplained bruises on their body, it might indicate abuse. Children, the elderly, and disabled residents in these settings make for easy targets for molestation and worse by staff or caretakers.
There have been more than 16,000 complaints of sexual abuse in nursing homes, indicating that more than two people in these facilities are abused daily. Female residents and those with Alzheimer’s or dementia are found to be more vulnerable.
Our Attorneys Are Here To Help
At the Law Offices of Michael S. Lamonsoff, we have a reputation for getting results for our clients that no other can. Over the last three decades, attorney Michael “The Bull” Lamonsoff and his team of tenacious lawyers have been able to recover civil damages and compensation on behalf of his clients who were failed by an organization that should have protected them.
Michael made history a couple of years ago by winning a $16 million jury verdict against the NYC Department of Education for a young girl who was sexually abused by a teacher. This is far from the only case – our lawyers have over 150 years of experience litigating in courts to champion the rights of those sexually exploited, regardless of their age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other identifier. To learn more, please call us at 212-962-1020 or complete this form to get in touch with us – it will cost you nothing.