Proposed U.S. Rule Seeks to Curb Sexual Abuse of Exchange Students

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The U.S. Department of State has proposed a new rule that aims to help prevent sexual abuse of foreign youths in high school student-exchange programs by increasing the screening requirements for adults who interact with such students.

The proposed amendments to regulations for high school exchange programs would require criminal-background checks of all adults who work with the programs. The program sponsors would also have to run the names of all adults in the households of host families through sex-offender registries kept by the states where the students would live while in the United States. The programs would be required to report allegations of sexual misconduct both to the State Department and to local law-enforcement agencies.

The rule, published Aug. 12 in the Federal Register, would apply to some 1,450 program sponsors that receive more than 275,000 exchange students in American secondary schools each year. The State Department will accept comments on the proposed rule until Oct. 11.

Edgar Vasques, a spokesman for the State Department, said the proposal was a response to “concerned citizens.”

“We have heard their concerns, examined the situation, and felt it was necessary to build in an extra level of protection for youth-exchange students,” he said.

The Federal Register posting notes that some exchange students are as young as age 15 and have a “vulnerable status.”

John O. Hishmeh, the executive director of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel, an Alexandria, Va.-based organization that represents student-exchange programs, said some programs already conduct criminal-background checks or run the names of adults through state databases of sex offenders.

He said no national organization tracks incidents of reported sexual abuse of foreign-exchange students.

New Advocacy Group

An organization called the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students was formed last month in Oceanside, Calif., with the goal of drawing more attention to the need to protect foreign-exchange students from sexual abuse, according to a letter circulated by Danielle Grijalva, the founder of the group.

The letter provides references to nearly a dozen news stories on allegations of sexual abuse of high school foreign-exchange students—what Ms. Grijalva calls “a pattern of abuse that is making headlines around the world.”

Ms. Grijalva recommends that parents who are sending a child to study abroad request confirmation that background checks have been conducted on members of the host family.

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