Most of the Boy Scouts I know are incredibly honorable people. They are horrified by the reports of thousands of men who abused kidsbetween 1947 and 2005 through relationships developed from their role as Boy Scout leaders and volunteers – and by the fact that failure of the Boy Scouts of America to report these pedophiles has put other kids at risk.
Boy Scouts of America Is Doing Too Little and Too Late
So far, the Boy Scouts of America has partially addressed the issue by removing these people from their organization and recently enacting extensive child protection procedure and programs. But, as one looks back at how long they were aware that some of their volunteers were abusing kids, the steps taken so far seem to be much too late and still too little.
For many years, the Boy Scouts failed to protect kids in their care because they tried to handle the problem internally and didn’t report most of the cases. They confused the issue when they tried to combat child abuse by requiring gay men and boys to leave their organization, even though there is no evidence that sexual orientation makes anyone more or less likely to sexually abuse kids. They have continued to fail by refusing to make their records public until forced to do so by a court order.
These failures from an organization where being an Eagle Scout represents tremendous integrity and competence raise troubling questions such as:
- How could this have happened?
- Could it happen again?
- Are the procedures and programs enacted so far enough to prevent future abuse?
First of all, how could this have happened?
Sometimes good organizations doing important work make extremely harmful mistakes and then fail to address these mistakes effectively because they are afraid of damage to their public image or are trying to protect their leaders from being blamed.
Boy Scouts of America Put Their Reputation Before The Safety Of Children
Times have changed. Public understanding of what child abuse looks like, the damage it causes, the prevalence of child abuse, and how pedophiles operate has increased tremendously in recent years. I believe that it is unfair to blame people today for the Boy Scouts of America’s past lack of understanding and past failures of leadership. However, it is important that this organization take full responsibility for what happened.
The honorable way to cope with past mistakes is to acknowledge what went wrong, learn everything you can to prevent this from happening again, and make amends to repair the harm done. Unfortunately, according to news reports about this case, the Boy Scouts of America continues to put guarding their reputation ahead of child safety. By refusing to open their records sooner and even destroying some records, they have lost valuable information that could potentially prevent other children from being abused.
These leadership failures undermine the Boy Scouts of America’s credibility about their commitment to child protection. They need to change their mindset from protecting the Boy Scouts organization to demonstrating the character that they teach their boys.
Could this happen in the Boy Scouts again today? Unfortunately, Yes.
Unfortunately, I believe that the answer is “yes” because abuse can happen anytime anywhere. Also, any inconsistencies in terms of commitment to child safety in an organization’s culture can undermine steps taken to protect kids.
Right now screening, greater awareness, better procedures, and increased training makes abuse less likely to happen in the Boy Scouts. However, as time goes by, people tend to forget and lower their guard. People want to trust reputable organizations and charismatic leaders, but we must not trust blindly. Our article, Worthy of Trust, describes the organizational obstacles that often get in the way of protecting kids from harm and making the decisions that each adult must make in order to uphold the Kidpower Principle to:
Put Safety First, ahead of embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.
Constant vigilance by the Boy Scout organization and by parents will be necessary for their policies and training to be effective. Sexual predators seek opportunities to develop relationships and connections in places where there are children. They are often very charming people who win trust and gratitude by taking many positive actions. They are talented at manipulating adults as well as children.
Pedophiles use a variety of tactics including seeking out children who are vulnerable to emotional coercion, lowering a child’s boundaries by providing affection and favors, testing a child’s willingness to keep secrets with inappropriate behavior before doing anything overtly sexual, and seducing a child into participating in the sexual behavior so that the child feels at fault.
Are the current child protection measures enacted by the Boy Scouts enough to prevent future abuse?
The Boy Scouts have taken some important steps that, if consistently and effectively implemented, can help keep kids safe most of the time. According to their website, current child protection activities include:
- Screening for all people in contact with kids.
- Training for all adults in how to recognize and report abuse.
- “Two deep” policies about not having adults alone with kids in Boy Scout activities and not singling kids out for special relationships.
- Recognize, Resist, Report training for kids in English and Spanish with videos and discussion.
Screening is important but we need to stay aware: Most pedophiles have not yet been reported and are operating under the radar of adults.
The Records Were Finally Revealed and Programs Updated — But Boy Scouts Has More Work To Do To Keep Kids Safe
In Kidpower’s more than two decades of teaching child protection and personal safety skills, we have found that adults and kids alike need to be truly prepared to take action immediately to recognize and stop an unsafe situation.
Three “Legs” of Child Protection: Awareness, Understanding, and Skills
Just as chair needs at least 3 legs to be stable, so does change in human behavior. The three legs for Child Protection are: Awareness, Understanding, and Skills. We need Awareness of potential threats to safety; Understanding of the harm these dangers can cause and what needs to happen in order to prevent those threats, and Skills for what to say and do in the moment to act on ones awareness and understanding. Adults need skills to intervene to stop an unsafe situation. Kids need skills to take charge of their emotional and physical safety.
The Boy Scout’s “Recognize, Resist, Report” program raises awareness and understanding. To increase the success of their program, adults and kids need to rehearse skills in age-appropriate contexts that are relevant to their lives so that these skills become habits that they are prepared to use in the moment when a problem starts to develop.
To protect young people from bullying, abuse, and other violence, schools, youth organizations, and religious institutions must have:
- A culture of integrity where no one is above the law, feedback is encouraged, and problems are addressed.
- Commitment to best practices in policies and screening.
- A plan of action for addressing any safety concerns immediately in a balanced way including reporting any sexual behavior with children to law enforcement authorities.
- Safety Skills – Awareness and intervention skills for adults – and protection skills for kids.
Sadly, what the Boy Scouts of America has been done so far came much too late and is still not enough. However, they are taking steps in the right direction. This is an important institution, and they have an opportunity to become a model for other organizations in protecting kids and in showing integrity in how they deal with the child abuse cases that happened under their watch.
If you are involved in Scouts or have children in any youth program – Make sure you stay aware and involved. Make sure you teach kids and frequently practice self protection skills such as setting and respecting boundaries, not keeping secrets about touch, gifts or problems of any kind, being persistant to get help with problems, and advocating for themselves and others when they have concerns. Kidpower has many resources to help parents and other adults be leaders in child protection and help create cultures where everyone Puts Safety First! Please check out the articles below, our books and workshops, and contact a center near you or the headquarters with questions or more information about training.
Kidpower Child Abuse Prevention Resources
Article: Worthy of Trust: What Organizations Need to Do to Protect Children From Harm
Article: Four Strategies for Protecting Kids From Sexual Predators
About the Author
Kidpower Executive Director and Founder, Irene van der Zande, has been featured as a child safety expert by USA Today, CNN, and The Wall Street Journal. She is the author of The Kidpower Book For Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, and the Kidpower Safety Comic Series, which many families and schools use in their child abuse prevention, bullying prevention and healthy communication skill-building programs. Kidpower is a non-profit leader in child protection and personal safety education.