Expect More Children to be Sexually Abused

In 2016 Juan Ivan Barajas, a health teacher, coach and athletic director at the all-girls San Gabriel Mission High School in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, repeatedly sexually abused a 15-year-old student. Then, after his wife found evidence of the abuse, he kidnapped the girl and took her to Las Vegas.


This case is most notable because the school leadership received multiple reports of Barajas’s egregious behavior, yet they continually failed to recognize the child sex abuse.


David Ring, the girl’s attorney said, “It is astounding this abuse was allowed to occur given all the procedures and ongoing training the archdiocese has put in place since the priest-abuse scandals of the early 2000s.”


The prior year, a coach told the principal that Barajas took another girl into his office and was alone with her more than 50 times. A member of the San Gabriel Mission staff told me that more than a year before the kidnapping, after hearing staff and students speak about Barajas’s behavior, she sent an anonymous letter to school authorities because she didn’t trust the published procedures. “No one does,” she added.


Archdiocese and school officials admitted receiving reports about suspicious behavior between Barajas and students from a coach and from a parent, as well as at least two anonymous letters. One letter said: “He takes the ones he likes to the office.”


Ring said warning signs involving Barajas, who had successfully passed several background checks, were “crystal clear,” referencing records that indicate he was the subject of repeated misconduct allegations regarding other female students. “The complaints about Barajas were unambiguous, and yet nothing was done”.


Spokeswoman for the archdiocese Adrian Marquez Alarcon disagrees, saying “The allegations were investigated, but no evidence was found to support them.” We’ve heard those exact words before: They were also used in reference to Jerry Sandusky for an incident which was actually looked into rather than covered up, ignored or not reported. Alarcon also noted that Barajas had received a warning for time spent alone with a minor and “was counseled according to archdiocesan policies”. Similarly, Sandusky acknowledged that he shouldn’t shower naked with the boy and promised not to do it again. He went on to sexually abuse nine more boys.


These are despicable, evil acts and every one of us is culpable because they are completely preventable. All that is required is an effective notification system. Laws, policies, procedures and training without a system people trust, are ineffective.


In the last 15 years the archdiocese has paid more than $740M in sexual abuse settlements, the girl will receive $8M. “We hope that the settlement will allow her to heal and move forward with her education and lifetime goals,” archdiocese officials said in a statement. “The archdiocese apologizes for the impact that this caused in her life.”


All of this could have been avoided. Our application, the mostly likely to prevent and the first to detect wrongful acts would have delivered more and better notifications faster, and the dashboard analytics would have immediately made it patently clear, that this was child sex abuse. The app would cost San Gabriel Mission High School no more than $25 a month although we will never let cost be a barrier to protecting people, especially children and the elderly.


And, effective notifications systems don’t just prevent and detect wrongful acts. They also provide a critical conduit for positive communication that drives engagement and performance.


Demand that organizations with which you are associated have an effective notification system. It’s right, it makes good business sense and it’s the law. Yet over 95% of nonpublic entities, including churches, schools and other nonprofits that work with children and the elderly, don’t have this essential system. Speak up at least to protect the young and the old.


Learn more: Why Serious Issues Go Unreported and How Leaders Can Protect Their People and Organizations from Devastating Consequences