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Where the Boy Scouts went terribly wrong

September 22, 2012|By Carla Hall
  • Boy Scouts salute the flag during Memorial Day ceremonies in Hudson, Wis.
Boy Scouts salute the flag during Memorial Day ceremonies in Hudson, Wis. (Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty…)

Over the course of two decades, the Boy Scouts of America covered up the acts of hundreds of child molesters within its ranks, never notifying authorities and instead quietly banishing offenders, according to an investigation by the Los Angeles. Sometimes, the molesters left one Scout troop and reappeared at another to molest again, according to information in the 1,600 confidential Boy Scout files that go from 1970 to 1991.

That pattern sounds horribly familiar. As with the sexual-abuse cases that rocked the Roman Catholic Church and the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State, here is another situation in which authorities, entrusted to care for young people, failed to deal properly with molesters in their institution, which led to more children and youths being victimized. And as in those previous scandals, Boy Scout officials were not just elevating the protection of the institution over the welfare of individuals, but also were perpetuating a culture in which sexual abuse was seen not as a crime to be punished and denounced but as an embarrassment to be dealt with quietly.

According to The Times' story, in the past, Scout leaders being dismissed over allegations of abuse were sent a form letter assuring them that information about their actions or suspected actions would not be publicly released so the dismissal would not damage their “standing in the community.”

Today, the accepted approach to witnessing or suspecting sexual abuse is to report it to law enforcement authorities. The Boy Scouts has had such a policy of “mandatory reporting” in its guidelines since 2010. In an apparent response to The Times' story, Boy Scouts Chief Executive Wayne Brock wrote in an open letter to parents on the Scouts website -- linked to the group’s Facebook page -- pointing out that the organization’s youth protection program is continually being strengthened. He noted that the organization requires two adults at every Scouting activity -- “No youth should ever be alone with a Scout leader” -- and that all volunteers must submit to a criminal background check and take a training course in how to safeguard youths from abuse.

That’s all commendable. Unfortunately, it’s a little late for the victims described in the numerous confidential files. And  what’s missing from the Boy Scouts’ reaction is any profound sense of regret or even outrage about those previous decades of neglect that led to the victimization described in the files. If someone saw or knew about an adult killing a child, that witness wouldn’t hesitate to stop it or report it. But, in past decades, as these files reveal, Boy Scout officials refused to report it or denounce it.

The Boy Scouts, obviously, is not the only group with this type of history, but it’s just as shameful, and the Scouts should acknowledge that.

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