Boy Scouts: Good Intentions Gone Awry
The Boy Scouts was founded in 1910, amid a wave of concern over a perceived widespread lack of guidance for youth due to changing trends in family life and values. Many parents feared that their children would grow up lacking in the traditional values, patriotism, and religious views that they felt were crucial to proper character development. The programs designed by the Boy Scouts were supposed to allow “morally upright” men and women to teach boys the skills, morals, and values that they would need to grow into well-rounded young men. Today, the Boy Scouts still purports to help children and young people develop strong moral fiber as they engage in outdoor activities and learn a variety of practical skills.
Yet participation in these Scouting programs has rendered thousands of boys vulnerable to unspeakable abuse. Furthermore, despite claiming to run a“comprehensive” program for education on and prevention of child sex abuse, the BSA reportedly offers scant support to victims, instead choosing to fight abuse complaints and refusing to inform law enforcement. However well-intentioned the Boy Scouts may be, critics feel their programs and regulations harbor glaring flaws that have rendered innocent youth helpless, time and time again, to the cold-hearted designs of child molesters and rapists, some of which had already been previously-accused or even convicted of sexual offenses.
Turning A Blind Eye To Child Sex Abuse?
Survivors and their families claim that the BSA has actually been aware of sexual abuse regularly occurring in its programs since shortly after the organization was founded, yet didn’t take effective measures to stop the misconduct. Instead, BSA officials long handled matters in such a way that not only gave perpetrators the chance to escape punishment, but also allowed them to continue abusing children.
“Perversion Files” Kept Under Seal
Ever since the BSA’s beginnings, the organization made a point to keep information on adult volunteer members who behaved inappropriately, violated rules and regulations, or who were found to have a checkered past. A large amount of the entries from these “ineligible volunteer files” had to do with sexual predators and have been also called the “perversion files.”
The BSA claims that these files are kept a secret in order to encourage prompt and accurate reporting of abuse incidents, arguing that making the “perversion files” public will make victims and witnesses less likely to report misconduct. But critics of the BSA believe that the organization is actually keeping the files out of the public eye in order to protect the public image of the Boy Scouts as a whole as well as the reputation of BSA officials.
BSA Launches Youth Protection Program
Though longtime BSA administrators have said that sex abuse of Scouts was a problem from the organization’s beginnings, it was only in the 1980’s that the BSA finally made a serious effort to combat the problem by launching a series of initiatives aimed at preventing sexual abuse of children, including:
- Mandatory reporting of abuse. BSA officials and administrators are required to report any abuse they learn of.
- Getting parents involved through education. Parents are told to make sure their children are aware of the dangers of sexual abuse, enforced through education and measures such as requiring children to fill out a release form of sorts, saying that they’ve discussed issues of possible sex abuse with their parents before joining a troop.
- “Two-Deep” Leadership. Scouts cannot be alone with just one Scout leader; there always must be at least 2 adults present during troop meetings and outings.
- Respecting Privacy of Scouts. Scout leaders must take care to allow Scouts privacy when showering, using the bathroom, or any other time privacy is needed.
Though these initiatives, along with the BSA’s Youth Protection Program as a whole, have been praised as some of the best abuse prevention attempts made by a youth activity organization, their impact on the issues seems to have been limited at best.
Based on victim testimony, these programs have made it no harder for pedophile Scout leaders to abuse the system. At the very least, such programs seemed to shift the responsibility to the victims and their parents rather than truly addressing the root problem–the way BSA was allowing dangerous men to enter their programs and continue volunteering even after serious complaints were made against them.
Former Scouts File Lawsuits Against BSA
Several legal claims filed against the BSA by former Scouts have become extremely high-profile in the past several years, almost rivaling the level of controversy raised by the sexual abuse problems in the Catholic church.
Perversion Files Revealed In Landmark Trial
During a major Scouting abuse trial, in which charges from former Scout Kerry Lewis were examined, the jury discovered that the BSA had been receiving abuse complaints for decades and not only took insufficient action on many complaints, but also kept the reports hidden so that the public wouldn’t even get close to an accurate idea of how bad the abuse problem was in the organization.
The secret “ineligible volunteer files,” which included over 600 complaints from victims, are still being hidden by the BSA to this day, but some of them were brought to light as evidence for the Lewis trial. The existence of such a font of evidence of rampant sexual abuse, hidden and practically ignored by the BSA, completely stunned and disgusted the jury.
Even worse, law enforcement often cooperated with the BSA, agreeing to help cover up evidence of heinous sexual abuse of innocent boys due to “respect” for the contributions of the BSA to local communities. The Boy Scouts of America was ultimately ordered by the Oregon jury to pay $18.5 million in damages to Lewis, which was the largest court award granted in a Scout sex abuse case to date, though Lewis had originally asked for $25 million.