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Protect the Vulnerable: Helping Schools Stop Sexual Misconduct

In addressing other exposures, schools may inadvertently increase the risk for sexual misconduct.
By: | April 2, 2018 • 6 min read

Stories of sexual impropriety have dominated headlines recently, as revelations of abuse by those in positions of power take center stage. While misconduct isn’t new, the societal spotlight is. And it has widened its scope beyond Hollywood to shine a light on sexual misconduct in athletics, workplaces, and schools.

“Today you are seeing more victims coming together, standing up and fighting back,” said Susan Kostro, Chief Underwriting Officer, Public Entities Practice, Liberty Mutual Insurance. “But one population may have a harder time finding its voice and is at significant risk for abuse: schoolchildren. “

An investigation by The Associated Press determined between 2011 and 2015, there were about 17,000 reported incidents of sexual abuse committed by fellow students in the U.S. Another report by The Boston Globe found that, since 1991, at least 67 New England private schools have fielded accusations that staffers sexually abused or harassed more than 200 students, resulting in at least 90 lawsuits.

“Schools are charged with providing a safe environment for students. When they fail, the consequences are severe,” said Steve Deig, Technical Director of Risk Control Services, Liberty Mutual Insurance. In addition to being responsible for the physical and emotional wellbeing of its students, schools must also protect their reputations and bottom lines.

To protect their students and themselves, schools need to understand their exposures to potential sexual misconduct, how to mitigate those risks, and how to respond if allegations arise.

Identifying the Exposure

There are two types of sexual misconduct and molestation (SMM) most common to the school environment — student against student, and staff against student.

“In either situation, the victims are usually among the most vulnerable — the youngest students and sometimes, those with disabilities,” Kostro said. “In other words, the students that need guidance and protection the most.”

Misconduct can take many forms, including staring or leering, suggestive gestures, “accidental” physical contact, bullying, sexual jokes or gossip, and outright offers or requests for sexual favors. The prevalence of smartphones, social media and texting makes it ever more difficult to identify when these actions are taking place. By going online, sexual predators can more easily take their behavior out of a public setting and away from the watchful eyes of peers, administrators, and parents.

“There are a lot more wrinkles compared to 10 to 15 years ago,” Deig said. “Today, educators use technology such as texting and social media professionally, but it also opens the door for inappropriate contact with students. And monitoring digital communications and enforcing safe school policies can often be problematic for districts.”

In addressing other exposures, schools may inadvertently increase the risk for sexual misconduct.  For instance, to protect staff and students against an active shooter, many schools permanently cover interior classroom doors and windows to minimize a potential shooter’s line of sight—even when a school is not undergoing an active shooter drill.

“But you can’t supervise what you can’t see,” Kostro said. By reducing visibility, schools may create opportunities for inappropriate one-on-one student/staff encounters, or horseplay and potential violence among unsupervised students if windows and doors remain covered after a drill.

Mitigating the Risk

The best approach to minimizing the risk of sexual misconduct is to be proactive and remove opportunities in the first place.

Keeping windows clear is a start. Having monitors walk the halls — checking empty classrooms, stairwells, cafeterias, parking lots, and recreational fields — also helps to increase natural surveillance and curtail any chance of improper behavior. Social media and technology policies can also delineate what are considered appropriate channels and types of communication between teachers and students.

But it all begins with thorough effective screening and hiring practices for not only staff but also volunteers to keep predators out of schools to begin with.

“One of the big problems we see is that some schools do not conduct background checks consistently,” Kostro said. “You want to do everything that the law allows you to do in terms of applicant screening. The bar for what is considered the appropriate level of due diligence has gone up. What was adequate 10 years ago is not enough today.”

As liability increases, so have claim settlements.

“If allegations are brought against a school accusing it of negligent hiring, improper training and supervision, failure to report, negligent retention—consequences can reach into the millions of dollars,” she said.

In addition to stringent screening and hiring practices, schools need clear incident-reporting policies that align with state and local regulations.

“Every jurisdiction has a different definition of child sexual abuse and different reporting rules,” Deig said. “The laws are designed to over-report. If you fail to report an incident in a timely manner, there could be repercussions against the school and individual in both civil and criminal courts.”

All members of faculty and staff should be trained not only on school policies that can affect child sexual abuse but also on jurisdictional requirements so they know how to identify improper behavior and what to do about it. Some may be hesitant to report potential abuse based on a gut feeling or suspicion, so a well-defined reporting method is critical for policies to be effective.

“Don’t take allegations lightly,” Kostro said. “Err on the side of the safety of the student. Investigate every claim and report every allegation or suspicion of abuse. By taking action in good faith, school officials are helping to protect students and can help build a defensible position should there be a claim.”

But even the most careful institution can’t prevent every incident. To that end, it’s imperative for schools to check their insurance coverage.

Pinpoint the Right Insurance Partner

Sexual misconduct and molestation (SMM) coverages vary from carrier to carrier, so it’s important to partner with an insurer that knows the local legal and regulatory landscape and understands the unique exposures of schools and school districts.

Because compliance is so important, the right insurer also should be able to provide guidance to legal resources and training services.

“A lot of liability issues and exposures intertwine with sexual misconduct. While we do provide training, we can also recommend the best resources that bring in legal counsel to advise on state regulations and how to respond to specific situations. Typically, the state’s Department of Education or Department of Child Services can provide excellent school specific and state-specific training on reporting and investigation procedures,” Kostro said.

In addition to its own sexual misconduct coverage, a school should require third-party contractors who have access to and come in contact with children to hold similar policies regarding sexual misconduct exposures. Standard general liability policies may not include coverage for such claims.

“Our SMM coverage is designed specifically for schools, and our claims professionals who are dedicated to youth-serving organizations are well-versed in the exposure. The same goes for our assigned defense counsel,” Kostro said.

Liberty Mutual also provides school teacher E&O and umbrella coverage in addition to its SMM policies.

“From underwriting a product coverage to claims and defense, this is an exposure where we’ve been developing expertise since we launched the Public Entities practice,” she said.

“Through our agents and brokers, the Liberty Mutual team has the knowledge around this exposure to understand schools’ concerns, advise them on where they can limit their risk, and ultimately, help advocate for them when issues arise.”

To learn more, visit https://business.libertymutualgroup.com/business-insurance/industries/public-entity-insurance-coverage.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




Liberty Mutual Insurance offers a wide range of insurance products and services, including general liability, property, commercial automobile, excess casualty and workers compensation.

More from Risk & Insurance

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High Net Worth

High Net Worth Clients Live in CAT Zones. Here’s What Their Resiliency Plan Should Include

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.

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Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”

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Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.

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“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]