Poor Timmy. Like many children across the country, he was selected by his peers to be a target of constant bullying. The 2016 film titled Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life can easily sum up Timmy’s, as well as other children’s experiences. This author’s days in junior high were no cakewalk either. But through the advancement of technology, there’s hope for Timmy and his club of social outcasts. This hope comes in the form of STOPit, a risk mitigation tool aimed at stopping claims before they occur.
“I’ve devoted 25 years of my career to covering public entities across the country,” says Scott Rohr, divisional president of Great American Insurance Group’s public sector division. “What hits me are the molestation claims, where a teacher, coach, janitor, or other adult is taking advantage and abusing a student. This is happening across the country, and when you have a book of business that covers nearly 12 million students, the number of these potential claims is tremendous.
“I attended a number of risk management seminars that involved faculty and administration, but nothing was really changing in terms of loss prevention. I was searching for something to offer our clients when I received a cold call from one of Todd’s (Schobel, CEO and founder of STOPit) employees about a year and a half ago. Initial conversations about the product really hit home, so we started vetting it.”
“The product speaks for itself, but you need to try it,” says Schobel. “I can’t say enough about Scott Rohr and his team at Great American Insurance Group for really spearheading STOPit.”
Exactly what is STOPit?
“STOPit is not an insurance product but a risk management product,” explains Rohr. “For the first time in my career, I see a product empowering the students—whether in college, high school, or middle school—to be part of the solution; products in the past relied on faculty and administrators.”
Claims the product helps prevent are “bad behavior claims, not the standard playground safety or maintenance,” adds Rohr. “These are tangible, but very dynamic and disruptive, claims involving abuse, molestation, bullying, and suicide in the school community.”
“Today, we have traditional forms of bullying, but there are also teachers having inappropriate relationships with students,” adds Schobel. “With the advent of technology and social media, bullying has become cyberbullying. It’s created an epidemic, which has led to off-the-charts levels of self-harm and suicide. Child molestation claims are now reaching pandemic levels, because teachers can now groom a student via social media. We have one large pool—a collection of school districts—that over the past several years, has been paying out millions of dollars of losses, and there’s no end in sight.”
The platform consists of three parts: the STOPit app; DOCUMENTit, to efficiently track and manage cases; and STOPit Messenger, for real-time, one-to-one communication under the veil of anonymity.
“STOPit is usually implemented at a school during a rally, where all the students come together,” says Rohr. “While there, they download the app to their phones.”
“The app empowers people to send actionable intelligence in real time,” explains Schobel. “They can send a screenshot of a disturbing social media page. They can videotape, take photographs, or send a message. It gives recipients evidence so they can quickly take a proactive approach to mitigating risk.”
Not only is the information shared in real time, but it’s all done anonymously, in both directions.
“When we start investigating these types of claims, we find that students, their friends, their classmates and sometimes trusted teachers know something about what’s going on but are afraid to report it to the principal face-to-face or use an 800 number,” says Rohr. “This anonymous reporting looks and feels like text messaging, and once they really understand that it’s anonymous, they’re empowered to be part of the solution.
“Schools are reporting an almost-immediate mitigation of claims, because everyone realizes their classmates are all possible reporters. Deterrence is very powerful,” he adds.
“We have a school superintendent who downloaded the program and told everyone, ‘Now we have a thousand sets of eyes looking over our schools and community,’ and that’s pretty cool,” adds Schobel.
Administrators play an integral part in the STOPit process. “It’s just as important that school officials designate who receives the reports,” explains Rohr. “They can assign as many resources as they wish to receive real-time reports.”
Schools might have different counselors to handle different issues for students. “They have behavioral counselors for drugs, counselors for problems at home, or ones for self-harm,” says Schobel. “The school defines report recipients. They can look at the topic and then forward it to the appropriate counselor. Being in real time, they can sort through them quickly and then assign the issue to the appropriate resources internally.”
The DOCUMENTit platform automatically time and date stamps reports, lets users see results, identifies trends, and streamlines the investigative process. The anonymous messaging technology works across many verticals—education, workplace, government, and public safety—and lets organizations customize appropriate incident tags to best fit their needs.
Schobel says, “K-12 would have tags like ‘cyberbullying’ and ‘abuse;’ higher education would include ‘hazing’ and ‘sexual misconduct’; and workplaces would have ‘whistle blowing,’ ‘intolerance,’ and ‘sexual discrimination.’ Certain tags are pre-populated, but within a split second, organizations can customize tags for their environment. The platform is designed to be simple, fast, powerful, smart, and user friendly, but customizable by the end user. It’s cloud-based and there’s no need for integration. An institution can enroll in the program and set it up in less than an hour.”
The tool can help schools deal with litigation. “Schools are saying that, even when they document everything about a student being abused and understandably distraught, the parents come back and say, ‘You didn’t do anything; you’ll hear from our lawyer,’ because they’re emotionally upset,” says Schobel. “They forget that the school has a documented trail of the investigation, which often includes meetings with the parents and students involved and counselors who have been working with the student in crisis, as well as any other actions taken by the school to help.
“If you have nothing set up in your school to deal with these issues and there’s a claim, you’re going to lose in court,” he adds. “When you demonstrate that you have these processes in place, you’re putting a good foot forward to try to protect everyone. So, when there is a claim, the school is best prepared to demonstrate that safeguards have been put in place and that the school is taking a proactive stance. This creates a strong case for reduction or dismissal of the claim altogether.”
The platform can help uncover trends. “One school using the data identified pockets around campus where issues were going on,” Schobel says. “They were able to look at the data, bring it back to the board, and say, ‘We need to invest in more cameras and surveillance in these hot spots.’ The data showed that issues were happening in these locations, so they were able to get the funding to install cameras, and they were able to deter and mitigate more risks.”
STOPit Messenger not only allows quick communication, but clarification as well. Anonymity is vital, but the school needs a way to gather more information, and that’s the power of Messenger. “A student might send an alert that says Johnny is going to bring a gun to school tomorrow,” says Schobel. “There are probably a lot of Johnnies in the district, but with Messenger, you can ask for Johnny’s last name.
“Because administrators are getting STOPit notifications on their phones via email or text 24/7, they can hit the STOPit Messenger button and begin a chat with the reporter under the veil of anonymity to gather more information. Our data show that more than 60% of incidents submitted are accompanied by a Messenger conversation. This demonstrates that reporters are engaged and willing to share more information, resulting in a more efficient investigative process.
“A report can come in at 11 p.m. and be responded to immediately,” Schobel notes. “They already have an engaged person who is emotionally attached and willing to share more.”
While STOPit has only been on the market since 2013, it’s already shown signs of success. “We had a pool launch of about 20 school districts at the start,” Schobel recalls. “Within hours of the platform being adopted, the administration received reports about a basketball coach who had been there for seven years and was beloved in the community, who had been sexually abusing students in the district and community. The administration couldn’t believe that no one had made them aware. With STOPit, individuals felt confident and knew they had a voice, and now that predator is gone.”
“We’ve had schools where students reported anonymously that other students were bringing knives to school,” adds Rohr. “The knives were found and something possibly devastating was prevented. Sometimes fights at football games are planned out ahead of time. Students find out, report it, and again, it’s prevented. There are several examples of how this is working across the board. It’s much bigger than reducing insurance claims. It’s about changing the culture in the school communities where it’s being used, and we are proud to be part of that.”
“Most important, STOPit is a tool that’s ongoing,” Schobel says. “Data show that, over the course of time, deterrence sets in and everyone is doing a head check before engaging in harmful or illegal behavior. Students report things that may be brewing, which lets the administration take a proactive approach to mitigate an issue before it spirals out of control.”
STOPit statistics show that:
- The average number of incidents reported per school in the first 24 hours is six.
- The average number of incidents reported per school in the first week is 11.
- The average number of incidents reported per school in the first month is 25.
STOPit has also proved to be a time saver, with an average of three days to close an incident; schools using the program also report a 70% reduction in the time spent investigating incidents.
“Educators tell us that, when they’d hear about something going on, they would have to call kids out of the classrooms individually, and then when confronted, students wouldn’t give them all of the information, they‘d flat out lie, or they wouldn’t want to talk, and it drags on,” Schobel says.
“One of the initial objections that school administrators make is that ‘it’s just another thing I have on my to-do list,’ or ‘it’s going to take up time which I don’t have,’ but the important thing is that we’re finding out that it’s saving time,” says Rohr. “Once administrators realize this through practice, that’s when the product is really embraced.”
“With some schools, it’s taking them two to four days to figure out an issue. This used to take two to four weeks,” adds Schobel. “A lot of schools and states even now have HIB—Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying—laws. The schools have to react to anything in relation to these within 10 days. STOPit decreases schools’ liability with these laws because they’re able to get in front of these incidents before they reach the level of HIB.
“The insurance industry is starting to recognize us more and more as a risk mitigation product. There’s no better way to mitigate risks than to deter these behaviors before they happen. STOPit’s platform is really making environments healthier for kids and teachers at school.”
Adds Rohr, “We want as many students as possible to have access to this tool.”
More important than STOPit’s statistics are the stories about today’s children across the country and world.
“We recently finished a seven-state tour, where we met with more than 20 educators, counselors, and students,” says Schobel. “We had a school report that it had a girl who quit coming to school due to bullying. We brought STOPit into the school, and the administrator contacted the parents and the child, explaining what it was. She decided that it was safe to come back to school. The bullying stopped almost immediately because the kids didn’t want to get caught and, to this day, the girl is still in school. Think about the effect this has on a child.
“Another student suffered from depression after his parents divorced. He was a big strong kid, but he said the bullying was relentless. He was called into the office and was told that people had reported it. He said, ‘Things are better now, but what affected me was the fact that someone out there wanted to say something and help me, and I don’t know who they are.’ It increased his self-confidence and he felt so great about himself that he actually ran for student council and won. Stories like this are truly amazing.”
By Christopher W. Cook
Great American Insurance Group