NASW guidelines and codes of ethics
On 22nd January, 2018, a Iowa State social worker/therapist was arrested by Bettendorf police for sexually assaulting one of her client. Aracely Schutters aged 45 years was charged with felony for sexually exploiting one of her clients. According to an affidavit obtained by the New York Daily News, Aracely Schutters was employed by The Compass which is a center for disabilities and development based in Bettendorf when she committed the felony. (Elizalde, 2018) If found guilty of the charges level against her, she could face imprisonment for a period of up to 5 years since she violated the code of ethics governing her work as a social worker/therapist. In her biography which was published in the Compass website, Schutters has been practicing social worker for over 15 years and was thus explicitly aware of the code of ethics regulating her work. (Elizalde, 2018)
Aracely Schutters is alleged to have committed the crime on December 4, 2017 in her residence at 2900 block of Dundee Lane. It is alleged that she had invited one of her adult clients to her home via a text message to discuss previous issues that her client was dealing with. According to the affidavit, the incidence happened at around 9pm on the night of 4th December, 2017. (Elizalde, 2018) Aracely Schutters had been the client’s therapist for over a year and a half but the two had never met outside of her work station at The Compass. She invited the client to sit into her hot tub and proceeded to serve her alcoholic beverages. Despite being in a professional relationship with the client, Schutters engaged the client in touching and unwanted kissing which is contrary to the NASW codes of ethics prohibiting any sexual contact between the therapist and the client whether it is consensual or forced. (Corcoran & Roberts, 2015) Schutters later admitted engaging the client in unwanted kissing after the victim reported the crime to the Bettendorf police 2 days after the incidence. The therapist later tried to apologize to the client for her lack of professionalism through a series of text messages and calls. (Elizalde, 2018)
As a practicing social worker/therapists, Schutters was definitely aware of NASW code of conduct that governed her work. The NASW code of ethics exists to ensure that social workers uphold professionalism and competence when handling clients. (Corcoran et al, 2015) The code also offers a framework and guide for dealing with ethical issues that might arise in the handling of clients. Social workers and other human services workers must uphold certain values and standards when offering services to persons in need and place the client’s interests above their own personal interests and. They should also interact with their clients in a respectful and caring manner with special regards to the client’s needs. (Corcoran et al, 2015) Schutters violated the above values when she made sexual advances towards her client.
NASW ethical standards
The NASW code of ethics prohibits any sexual relationship between the social worker/therapist and the client. Professional boundaries must be maintained at all stages of the social worker-client relationship to safeguard the client against exploitation and harm. (Corcoran et al, 2015) Physical contact between the social worker and the client is also prohibited and should such contact occur, it’s the responsibility of the person offering the services to ensure that it’s not misinterpreted by the client by ensuring clear professional boundaries are set and adhered to both. (Brandell, 2010) Sexual favors, sexual harassment, request for sex from clients, sexual advances and any other conduct which is sexual in nature is prohibited in the NASW code of ethics. (Corcoran et al, 2015) In her relationship with the client, Schutters violated all of the above code and regulations when she subjected the client to unwanted kissing and touching. Schutters did not set clear professional boundaries and tried to turn a professional relationship into an intimate interaction despite being aware of the code and regulations governing her work. Schutters knew that what she was doing was contrary to professional ethics and regulations and tried to end the relationship despite after subjecting the client to psychological harm. She is quoted telling the client that what she was doing was wrong and thus couldn’t offer her services anymore. (Elizalde, 2018) This is according to an affidavit obtained by the New York Daily News.
The State of Iowa has enacted strict guidelines prohibiting any form sexual advances from a therapist to a client and such a crime is punishable by law. (Solotoff & Kramer, 2017) Schutters’ lack of professionalism and integrity were evident when she disregarded the client’s needs and tried to manipulate her client to fulfill her own selfish needs. In this case, she not only violated the NASW code of ethics but also the Iowa State legal guidelines. (Elizalde, 2018)
Schutters’ preliminary hearing is scheduled for 2nd February, 2018 and despite being released after posting a five thousand dollars bond, she could still face jail time if convicted of the felony charges filed by the complainant. (Elizalde, 2018) However, the compromising situation she found herself in could be avoided if she had adhered to all the NASW code of ethics. The code provides clear framework for referral of clients to fellow colleagues when conflict of interest occurs during practice. (Corcoran et al, 2015) The social worker is bound to be objective when handling clients and should any conflict of interest occur, consultation with other colleagues is advised and ultimately referral if the therapist feels that they will not be of any positive impact to the client’s life. Schutters should have terminated the relationship and referred the client because she was not in a good position to offer help.
Schutters also put herself in a compromising situation by inviting the client to her house and welcoming them to sit into her hot tub despite conducting previous sessions in her work station. She then proceeded to serve the client alcoholic drinks in total disregard of professional boundaries. (Elizalde, 2018) The client was vulnerable and that’s why she sought the help of Schutters but she received more psychological harm since the therapist acted unprofessionally and jeopardized her interests.
Ethical standards are crucial for all human services workers to ensure clients are safeguarded from harm. The sole reasons these standards exist are to promote the client’s best interest and to ensure they receive quality services. (Corcoran et al, 2015) None of the NASW codes is inferior or superior over the other and practitioners are bound to adhere to all regulations so as to ensure professionalism. The codes in the NASW guidelines do not necessarily prescribe a mode of behavior but rather sets forward certain values, principles and ethical standards which must be followed by all social workers and other therapists to ensure a code of professionalism in the handling of clients. Violation of any values and/or standards results in unethical practice and legal proceedings may be initiated in a court of law by the victim. (Corcoran et al, 2015)
BIBLIOGRAPHY Brandell, J. R. (2010). Theory & Practice in Clinical Social Work (2nd ed.). California: SAGE Publications.
Corcoran, K., & Roberts, A. R. (2015). Social Workers’ Desk Reference (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Elizalde, E. (2018, January 23). New York daily news. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/iowa-therapist-accused-sexually-exploiting-patient-hot-tub-article-1.3775302
Solotoff, L., & Kramer, H. S. (2017). Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment in the Work Place (reprint ed.). New York: Law Journal Press.
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