Volunteers and Background Checks

Today  has been an upsetting day to say the least because yet again I have had to give up volunteering in my child’s school because they want FBI background checks.  It is not that I have a criminal background and am worried about being found out, because I don’t and have passed background checks before as a condition of employment.  It is the very nature of being forced to do it when I am giving freely of my time to help a school out. I should not have to pay to volunteer, because being a volunteering means giving of your time to enrich the lives of others. You are not compensated as a volunteer.

Most people out there, progressives and the uninformed, will say I am making a big to do about nothing and what is wrong with protecting children from criminals.  First off, let me say that there is nothing wrong with protecting children from criminals and as a parent, I try to do that every single day with my own children. I do that by educating them on the realities of the world.  Not only do I educated them on the realities of the world, but I also let them know that not every person out there is a criminal.  Criminals come in all sizes, shapes, religions and social levels and sometimes they cannot be easily identified.  In fact many criminals look like the person next door, seemingly harmless and has never been in trouble with the law. The one thing I always tell them is to trust your instinct, because if something inside of you is saying to steer clear of an individual or situation then the best course of action is to steer clear of that individual or situation.

Specifically getting back to background checks, there is a law in the state, which I temporarily reside in, that mandates background checks for all employees of a school district and expands to volunteers if they are left unsupervised with a child.  Unsupervised means (for those uninformed people out there) another adult is not present with the said volunteer or child. However, volunteers that regularly volunteer where there are groups of 2 or more adults do not need to perform a background check. As such to be careful and most likely to avoid litigation, schools and school districts have implemented a policy in which all volunteers need to have a background check.  No big deal you say, well, yes it is a big deal.  First of all, there should never be one on one contact between a volunteer and a child in any aspect of school unless it is absolutely unavoidable, such as in a library or cafeteria setting.  Also if one uses common sense, in those settings, it is likely the child is dropping off a book or lunch money or retrieving an item which should take moments, and a teacher, if they are competent (which most are), will noticed fairly quickly if a child is taking too long to return to the classroom.  Many times teachers send the kids out in teams so as to avoid the problem of children who happen to take their sweet time getting back to the classroom. (Side note – this probably happens more in public than private schools but it depends on the school setting as well – my private school in Washington state was situated with all doors leading outside and we always went with a buddy)

Additionally, when a child needs one on one contact with a volunteer, for say reading or extra help in a subject, it should always be done either in a quiet part of the room or just outside of the classroom door.  In previous schools, prior to the mandate of having a background check, this was common place and there were no reported instances of molestation or other forms of abuse because people move in and out of hallways on a consistent basis. Hmm… But that would encompass being able to use common sense, so that is probably out of the question for people in today’s day and age.

OK, so lets get down to the statistics of child molestations which is what this particular law was created to prevent in response to media reports. Obviously we cannot include all the statistics related to child molestation but the below statistics paint a picture of what the factors encompasses.

• “CSOs who commit Internet-related child-sex crimes often appear less dangerous because they typically are older Caucasian males with little to no criminal history or documented reports of violent behavior.” 1 M.C. Seto, Pedophilia and Sexual Offending Against Children: Theory, Assessment, and Intervention (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2008). (1)

• Adults were the offender in 60% of the sexual assaults of youth under age 12. Rarely were the offenders of young victims strangers. Strangers were the offender in just 3% of sexual assaults against victims under age 6 and 5% of the sexual assault of victimizations of youth ages 6 through 11. (2)

• Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement, 7/00, NCJ 182990, U.S. Department of Justice (2)

• Acquaintance perpetrators are the most common abusers, constituting approximately 70-90% of all reported perpetrators. (2)
-Finkelhor, D. 1994.

• 89% of child sexual assault cases involve persons known to the child, such as a caretaker or family acquaintance.
-Diana Russell Survey, 1978 (2)

• 29% of child sexual abuse offenders are relatives, 60% are acquaintances, and only 11% are strangers.
-Diana Russell, The Secret Trauma, NY:Basic Books, 1986. (2)

• More than 90% of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way. Snyder, Howard, N. (2000, July). Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: victim, incident, and offender characteristics. (3)

• The typical offender is male, begins molesting by age 15, engages in a variety of deviant behavior, and molests an average of 117 youngsters, most of whom do not report the offense.
-Dr. Gene Abel in a National Institute of Mental Health Study. (2)

• And the final one –  Like rape, child molestation is one of the most under-reported crimes: only 1-10% are ever disclosed.
-FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. (2)

I want to take a little time to note that between 1978 and 1995 the rate of stranger abuse stayed steady at about 10-11%. So lets use a a hypothetical example of the rate of children being abused by strangers:  In X year, there was 100,000 reports of child molestation per a total child population of 72,709,633 million  (2013 population figures for the U.S. 18 and under)(4), if only 11% of those cases were stranger molestations (a person who is not an acquaintance but say a volunteer, let me further explain I am using an example of someone like myself you goes in and volunteers but does not know the children personally) then 11000 children or .0001512% children in the  US have been molested by a stranger.  Now lets times the number of molestations by 10, assuming that this a more true representation of molestations in the US.  Then 1,000,000 children are molested and 11% again is strangers then the number jumps to 110,00 or  .001512% of all kids in the US are molested by strangers.

Now I know there will be people who say well what about the acquaintances and relatives.  Ok, here goes the numbers again using the hypothetical X year in which 100,000 cases are reported using the same child population.  Of those reported cases 29% are relatives and 29,000  or .0003988% children are sexually abused by a relative. Again if we times that by 10 to assume a more true representation of molestations the number jumps to 290,000 children or .003988%.  In the case of acquaintances which account for about 60% of all molestations (and here is a category where some volunteers could fall) the number is 60,000 or .0008252%.  Again, to assume a more true representation times that number by 10 and you have 600,000 children or .008252% of children molested by an acquaintance.

So what we have here is less than 1/100ths of a percent of children are sexually abused (again using the above numbers).  Am I defending sex abusers or trying to  make light of this horrible crime?  Absolutely not!  And I believe that those who sexually abuse a child need to first be castrated and then put to death. What I am showing, is that the vast majority of children in this country are not going to be sexually abused.  Also note that I am specifically focusing on sexual abuse as that was the intention of the law to protect children from child molesters. But in reality is this law really protecting children – one might argue that it does but then anyone who has not passed a FBI  background check could send in treats to a class party that is laced with drugs, laxatives etc or how about the fact that child molesters can and do live within a 1000 feet of schools.  Shall we ban class parties because one person might send in a tainted desert or should we pull down all homes within a 5000 feet of a school or a mile of the school or 2 miles of the school to protect the children?  How about the case from a few years ago where a teenage boy, who was 18, had sex with his girlfriend, who was I believe 15, and the parents found out resulting in this young man being label a sex offender for the rest of his life.  Under this law he would be banned from helping out in his kids school or even dropping his kids off at school because he is a registered sex offender.  Ironically this young man had permission to date the girl from the parents, but who cares about those facts.

Where does it stop?  Is this law really about protecting children or is it about protecting the school districts from litigation?  I would argue that it is more about protecting the schools against litigation, in our litigious society, than it is about protecting the children. After having conversed with a former school board member who indicated that was the big reason behind this law, I have come to the conclusion that this law is mostly for protecting school districts and their dollars and very little of it is to protect the children. How can I say this, well, the statistics point that out as the rate of sexual abuse in this country is less than 1/100th of a percent of all children. It is high time we stop punishing everyone and trying to create some false utopia where we don’t have to worry about the bad people, because the government will take care of everything and start punishing the people who actually commit the crimes in this country. ,And I don’t mean pink bow punishments, but actual punishment.  Laws are meant to protect, not hinder or harm people. By automatically assuming everyone is a criminal, and capable of sexual abuse, we see a decline in wanting to help others in certain situations – such as volunteering at schools or churches or any other place which requires a human presence and not just dollars.

So, in the end, this particular law which hurts volunteerism at schools (there as been a decline in volunteerism in schools), the schools suffer and the children do also because the volunteers are not there to help the teachers, plan wonderful events like parties or engage in extra educational opportunities for the kids, lulls us into a false sense of security. More importantly it requires us to trade our liberty for a little but of security which in the end will deny us of both.  To paraphrase the character Francis Regan of Blue Bloods, we can try to protect our children every way possible but we cannot protect them all the time, it is the reality of life.


(1) http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/2013/May/officers-and-child-sex-offenders

(2) http://www.yellodyno.com/html/child_molester_stats.html

(3) http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics

(4) http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html

Additional Reading: