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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

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Scenario

The End of Summer

A failure to purchase product contamination insurance results in a crushing blow.
By: | October 15, 2018 • 9 min read
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

PART ONE: THE HEAT IS ON

Reilly Sheehan, the Bethlehem, Pa., plant manager for Shamrock Foods, looks up in annoyance when he hears a tap on his office window.

Reilly has nothing against him, but seeing the face of his assistant plant operator Peter Soto right then is just a case of bad timing.

Sheehan, whose company manufactures ice cream treats for convenience stores and ice cream trucks, just got through digesting an email from his CFO, pushing for more cost cutting, when Soto knocked.

Sheehan gestures impatiently, and Soto steps in with a degree of caution.

“What?” Sheehan says.

“I’m not sure how much of an issue this will be, but I just got some safety reports back and we got a positive swipe for Listeria in one of the Market Streetside refrigeration units.”

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Sheehan gestures again, and Soto shuts the office door.

“How much of a positive?” Sheehan says more quietly.

Soto shrugs.

“I mean it’s not a big hit and that’s the only place we saw it, so, hard to know what to make of it.”

Sheehan looks out to the production floor, more as a way to focus his thoughts than for any other reason.

Sheehan is jammed. It’s April, the time of year when Shamrock begins to ramp up production for the summer season. Shamrock, which operates three plants in the Middle Atlantic, is holding its own at around $240 million in annual sales.

But the pressure is building on Sheehan. In previous cost-cutting measures, Shamrock cut risk management and safety staff.

Now there is this email from the CFO and a possible safety issue. Not much time to think; too much going on.

Sheehan takes just another moment to deliberate: It’s not a heavy hit, and Shamrock hasn’t had a product recall in more than 15 years.

“Okay, thanks for letting me know,” Sheehan says to Soto.

“Do another swipe next week and tell me what you pick up. I bet you twenty bucks there’s nothing in the product. That swipe was nowhere near the production line.”

Soto departs, closing the office door gingerly.

Then Sheehan lingers over his keyboard. He waits. So much pressure; what to do?

“Very well then,” he says to himself, and gets to work crafting an email.

His subject line to the chief risk officer and the company vice president: “Possible safety issue: Positive test for Listeria in one of the refrigeration units.”

That night, Sheehan can’t sleep. Part of Shamrock’s cost-cutting meant that Sheehan has responsibility for environmental, health and safety in addition to his operations responsibilities.

Every possible thing that could bring harmful bacteria into the plant runs through his mind.

Trucks carrying raw eggs, milk and sugar into the plant. The hoses used to shoot the main ingredients into Shamrock’s metal storage vats. On and on it goes…

In his mind’s eye, Sheehan can picture the inside of a refrigeration unit. Ice cream is chilled, never really frozen. He can almost feel the dank chill. Salmonella and Listeria love that kind of environment.

Sheehan tosses and turns. Then another thought occurs to him. He recalls a conversation, just one question at a meeting really, when one of the departed risk management staff brought up the issue of contaminated product insurance.

Sheehan’s memory is hazy, stress shortened, but he can’t remember it being mentioned again. He pushes his memory again, but nothing.

“I don’t need this,” he says to himself through clenched teeth. He punches up his pillow in an effort to find a path to sleep.

PART TWO: STRICKEN FAMILIES

“Toot toot, tuuuuurrrrreeeeeeeeettt!”

The whistles of the three lifeguards at the Bradford Community Pool in Allentown, Pa., go off in unison, two staccato notes, then a dip in pitch, then ratcheting back up together.

For Cheryl Brick, 34, the mother of two and six-months pregnant with a third, that signal for the kids to clear the pool for the adult swim is just part of a typical summer day. Right on cue, her son Henry, 8, and his sister Siobhan, 5, come running back to where she’s set up the family pool camp.

Henry, wet and shivering and reaching for a towel, eyes that big bag.

“Mom, can I?”

And Cheryl knows exactly where he’s going.

“Yes. But this time, can you please bring your mother a mint-chip ice cream bar along with whatever you get for you and Siobhan?”

Henry grabs the money, drops his towel and tears off; Siobhan drops hers just as quickly, not wanting to be left behind.

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“Wait for me!” Siobhan yells as Henry sprints for the ice cream truck parked just outside of the pool entrance.

It’s the dead of night, 3 am, two weeks later when Cheryl, slumbering deeply beside her husband Danny, is pulled from her rest by the sound of Siobhan crying in their bedroom doorway.

“Mom, dad!” says Henry, who is standing, pale and stricken, in the hallway behind Siobhan.

“What?” says Danny, sitting up in bed, but Cheryl’s pregnancy sharpened sense of smell knows the answer.

Siobhan, wailing and shivering, has soiled her pajamas, the victim of a severe case of diarrhea.

“I just barfed is what,” says Henry, who has to turn and run right back to the bathroom.

Cheryl steps out of bed to help Siobhan, but the room spins as she does so.

“Oh God,” she says, feeling the impact of her own attack of nausea.

A quick, grim cleanup and the entire family is off to a walk-up urgent care center.

A bolt of fear runs through Cheryl as the nurse gives her the horrible news.

“Listeriosis,” says the nurse. Sickening for children and adults but potentially fatal for the weak, especially the unborn.

And very sadly, Cheryl loses her third child. Two other mothers in the Middle Atlantic suffer the same fate and dozens more are sickened.

Product recall notices from state regulators and the FDA go out immediately.

Ice cream bars and sandwiches disappear from store coolers and vending machines on corporate campuses. The tinkly sound of “Pop Goes the Weasel” emanating from mobile ice cream vendor trucks falls silent.

Notices of intent to sue hit every link in the supply chain, from dairy cooperatives in New York State to the corporate offices of grocery store chains in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

The three major contract manufacturers that make ice cream bars distributed in the eight states where residents were sickened are shut down, pending a further investigation.

FDA inspectors eventually tie the outbreak to Shamrock.

Evidence exists that a good faith effort was underway internally to determine if any of Shamrock’s products were contaminated. Shamrock had still not produced a positive hit on any of its products when the summer tragedy struck. They just weren’t looking in the right place.

PART THREE: AN INSURANCE TANGLE

Banking on rock-solid relationships with its carrier and brokers, Shamrock, through its attorneys, is able to salvage indemnification on its general liability policy that affords it $20 million to defray the business losses of its retail customers.

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But that one comment from a risk manager that went unheeded many months ago comes back to haunt the company.

All three of Shamrock’s plants were shuttered from August 2017 until March 2018, until the source of the contamination could be run down and the federal and state inspectors were assured the company put into place the necessary protocols to avoid a repeat of the disaster that killed 3 unborn children and sickened dozens more.

Shamrock carried no contaminated product coverage, which is known as product recall coverage outside of the food business. The production shutdown of all three of its plants cost Shamrock $120 million. As a result of the shutdown, Shamrock also lost customers.

The $20 million payout from Shamrock’s general liability policy is welcome and was well-earned by a good history with its carrier and brokers. Without the backstop of contaminated products insurance, though, Shamrock blew a hole in its bottom line that forces the company to change, perhaps forever, the way it does business.

Management has a gun to its head. Two of Shamrock’s plants, including Bethlehem, are permanently shuttered, as the company shrinks in an effort to stave off bankruptcy.

Reilly Sheehan is among those terminated. In the end, he was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Burdened by the guilt, rational or not, over the fatalities and the horrendous damage to Shamrock’s business. Reilly Sheehan is a broken man. Leaning on the compassion of a cousin, he takes a job as a maintenance worker at the Bethlehem sewage treatment plant.

“Maybe I can keep this place clean,” he mutters to himself one night, as he swabs a sewage overflow with a mop in the early morning hours of a dark, cold February.

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Risk & Insurance® partnered with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions to produce this scenario. Below are their recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance.®.

Shamrock Food’s story is not an isolated incident. Contaminations happen, and when they do they can cause a domino effect of loss and disruption for vendors and suppliers. Without Product Recall Insurance, Shamrock sustained large monetary losses, lost customers and ultimately two of their facilities. While the company’s liability coverage helped with the business losses of their retail customers, the lack of Product Recall and Contamination Insurance left them exposed to a litany of risks.

Risk Managers in the Food & Beverage industry should consider Product Recall Insurance because it can protect your company from:

  • Accidental contamination
  • Malicious product tampering
  • Government recall
  • Product extortion
  • Adverse publicity
  • Intentionally impaired ingredients
  • Product refusal
  • First and third party recall costs

Ultimately, choosing the right partner is key. Finding an insurer who offers comprehensive coverage and claims support will be of the utmost importance should disaster strike. Not only is cover needed to provide balance sheet protection for lost revenues, extra expense, cleaning, disposal, storage and replacing the contaminated products, but coverage should go even further in providing the following additional services:

  • Pre-incident risk mitigation advocacy
  • Incident investigation
  • Brand rehabilitation
  • Third party advisory services

A strong contamination insurance program can fill gaps between other P&C lines, but more importantly it can provide needed risk management resources when companies need them most: during a crisis.



Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]