Insurers are avoiding Australia's Anglican schools due to child sex abuse risks
Even insurance companies know protecting religious institutions is a bad bet
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Schools run by the Anglican church in Queensland, Australia are facing an existential crisis because insurance companies are refusing to cover them on account of all the child sex predators they hired.
To make sense of this, it helps to go back to 2017, when Australia’s Royal Commission looked into “Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.” The commission found, for example, that 7% of Catholic priests in the country had been accused of sexually abusing children between the years of 1950 and 2010. The same commission also found serious problems with the Anglican church:
The data shows that 1,115 complaints of child sexual abuse were received by the church between 1980 and the end of 2015, involving 22 of the 23 Anglican dioceses in Australia. Those complaints were made by 1,082 survivors against 569 named and 133 unnamed perpetrators.
All of that led to an estimated $31 million in payouts to survivors at the time, with an average of $67,000 per survivor.
The commission’s recommendations led to Queensland eventually passing a law ending the three-year statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases, opening the door for more lawsuits filed by survivors who only came to terms with the abuse they suffered later in life.
It was no wonder, then, that private insurance companies soon began bailing on church-run entities. Why protect groups that were all-but-guaranteed to cost you money? It was far too big a risk.
Last month, the Guardian revealed that state governments were stepping in to temporarily cover the gaps:
In Queensland alone, the state government has now brokered temporary deals to offer indemnity for child abuse claims relating to 18 organisations providing out of home care and youth homelessness services, including Anglicare Southern Queensland and another four church or faith-based groups.
The indemnity deals guarantee to pay out survivors on their behalf where institutions are financially unable to do so.
On the one hand, it was good to see survivors not getting shafted just because their religious institutions claimed they were out of money. It was also important to see groups providing care for homeless children stay afloat despite their churches’ problems. But it was also troubling that taxpayers were effectively bailing out predatory faith-based institutions. It didn’t help that those deals were confidential—including any payout details. (All the more reason for governments to step in and care for the most vulnerable people in society rather than outsourcing that to church groups.)
But now it’s Anglican schools that face closure over their lack of insurance options, in part because the government won’t cover them either:
Documents seen by the Guardian also reveal that private insurers have abandoned a significant number of schools owned and operated by the Anglican church in southern Queensland, refusing to cover them for new claims of child sexual abuse.
The schools are not indemnified by the government and are now individually exposed to the full financial consequences of new abuse claims. Historical claims are still covered under previous insurance policies.
A spokesperson for the Anglican Schools Commission in southern Queensland said they were working on a “self-insurance” program set to launch in October, but it’s not clear if that’ll work. If the schools can’t make it work, they could be forced to shut down.
Wouldn’t be a huge loss at this point.
Any institution that faces a growing backlog of credible sex abuse claims deserves to fail. If the Anglican church lived up to its own self-described moral standards and protected victims instead of their abusers, they wouldn’t be in this mess right now. It’s about time they faced consequences for their negligence. If parents want to send their kids to a place that’s safe and ethical, they can always enroll them in a local public school.
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