Lessons to be learned about managing locker rooms to prevent child abuse and invasion of privacy
The class-action lawsuit filed in S.C. State Court alleges that Bishop England High School in Charleston, South Carolina knowingly allowed windows for staff viewing of students inside the boy’s and girls’ gym locker rooms. The windows were apparently installed in 1998 when Bishop England opened their new campus. After 21 years, an undisclosed number of former and some current students spoke out against the school, which is under the oversight of the Diocese Of Charleston. The list of defendants includes not only Bishop England and the Diocese of Charleston but also Bishop Robert Guglielmone. Bishop Guglielmone recently retired in May of 2019 at the age of 75.
This case is illustrative for the youth sports clients of Sadler Sports Insurance that have locker rooms and changing rooms either on owned or leased premises or at other premises. Note that the definition of child abuse includes non-touching offenses such as voyeurism and the photographing of minors for sexual purposes when they have an expectation of privacy. There can be a fine line between the duty to monitor and prevent bullying and hazing versus sexual misconduct. The U.S. Center for SafeSport has published guidelines for locker rooms and changing areas which maximizes privacy and child abuse protection for athletes by not allowing a continuous presence by staff inside of locker rooms. Instead, staff should be located directly outside of locker rooms and should be on call if a problem arises but periodic sweeps are encouraged.
Public knowledge emerges from voyeurism charge against school employee with window overlooking locker rooms
Public knowledge first emerged in 2019 when the school’s sports information director, Jeffrey Alan Scofield, was arrested for voyeurism. The employee told detectives that his office window overlooked the boys’ locker room, and he set up his phone between the windows and blinds for video recording. He then downloaded the videos onto a school computer. The employee was subsequently fired, convicted of voyeurism, and sentenced to time served plus 18 months probation along with being listed under the state’s sexual offender registry with a requirement to seek mental health counseling.
Defendants sued for $300 million for invasion of privacy and sexually abusive actions
The lawsuit alleges that Bishop England engaged in “dishonest, deceptive and sexually abusive actions” when it failed to protect students. The charges include invasion of privacy, various acts of negligence, breach of warranty, and unjust enrichment. The Diocese publicly denounced the accusation as having absolutely no merit stating the windows were in place merely to supervise students to prevent smoking, bullying, fighting, and other improper behavior. The plaintiffs are asking for $300 million in damages. Larry Richter, a previous graduate of the high school in the 1960s, is the attorney handling the case on behalf of the plaintiffs. Richter enacted a previous class-action case against the Diocese of Charleston. He won a $12 million settlement on the grounds of child sexual abuse.
Since 1998, students undressed in front of coaches who had access to the windows. Richter claims the school did nothing for years to get rid of the windows. He further questions why they were ever installed in the first place.
Since the filing of the lawsuit, Bishop England has subsequently boarded over the windows and replaced them with a brick wall.
Trainings and procedures to protect students from child sexual abuse
Bishop England firmly states that they have all the proper procedures and screenings in place for new employees. The school requires all new staff to:
- Pass a background check
- Attend child abuse prevention training
- Attend student boundary training
- Sign a code of conduct overseeing how they interact with minors
Huge number of potential sex abuse victims from locker room setting
But despite these requirements and trainings, child abuse allegedly still occurred. With 687 students in the student-body, Bishop England High School is the largest Catholic high school in the state. Over the course of 21 years, the number of students victim to peering is theoretically in the thousands. The number gets even larger. Richter states that visiting athletes from other schools shared the locker rooms as well.
How this case applies to youth sports organizations that use locker rooms and changing areas
While this lawsuit’s subject matter occurred in the school setting, youth sports participants are subject to the same types of invasion of privacy and sexual abuse. Child abuse is not limited to just inappropriate touching. The definition of illegal child abuse is quite broad and includes voyeurism and inappropriately videotaping youth in various states of undress.
In the past, youth sports administrators keyed in solely on criminal background checks to protect their youth from predators. The problem with putting all the eggs in the background check basket is that the vast majority of predators don’t have a detectable criminal background.
Therefore, merely running background checks is not enough to protect youth. The Safe Sport Act requires sports organizations at a minimum to provide:
- Mandatory educational training of adult staff and volunteers with access to youth. This should include defining the various forms of child abuse including no touching offenses such as voyeurism and how to handle locker room and changing room settings.
- Offer minor training at the discretion of the parent/guardian
- Implement policies and procedures to reduce the chances of an incident
- Report suspicions to local law enforcement within 24 hours
- Prohibit retaliation for whistleblowers
Sadler Sports Insurance offers free child abuse risk management content
Be sure to check out our free child abuse/molestation risk management content which includes the industry-leading blog on the Safe Sport Act, child abuse risk management templates, types of criminal background checks, and sources of criminal background checks. The document entitled Sadler Safe Sport Child Abuse and Other Misconduct Risk Management Plan includes a section on how to manage locker rooms and changing areas.
Caitlin Byrd. SC’s largest Catholic high school sued for $300M for invasive locker room windows. The State. February 4, 2021.
Drew Tripp. Bishop England, Diocese of Charleston sued for $300M over student exploitation claims. ABC News 4. February 4, 2021.
Catherine Kohn and Kenna Coe. $300 million lawsuit filed against Bishop England High School. Moultrie News. February 4, 2021.