As the contents of the ineligible volunteer files released recently come to light Scouting volunteers and the families that they serve will be justifiably upset and unsettled. They will ask questions. They will want to know that their children are safe.
The files record reports of incidents of abuse and served as a database of people deemed ineligible for volunteer positions. They plainly and horrifically reveal that a number of cases were handled internally and some officials at the time seemed more interested in protecting the reputations of abusers and of the organization than the children they served.
As demoralizing and infuriating the revelation of these past practices may be they are not indicative of how the B.S.A. handles reporting abuse today.
Most of you reading this have become volunteers within the past decade ( I know many of you have served longer) you may not be familiar with the history and development of youth protection in the B.S.A. (here’s a timeline ).
The ‘two deep leadership’ policy mandating that two adult volunteers must be involved in every activity first appeared in the early 1980’s. Resources for understanding and recognizing abuse were produced and distributed and a more comprehensive approach to youth protection developed over the ensuing years. This evolution has resulted in mandatory, regularly renewed, youth protection training for all volunteers. I have received and conducted all of the iterations of youth protection training throughout three decades of development and I believe it is the most advanced and thorough approach of any youth-serving organization.
There’s little consolation in contextualizing the actions and attitudes these files reveal with the time that they occurred, it is certainly no defense for the results. It’s equally troublesome to excuse any of it by comparing the B.S.A.’s actions and practices with those of other organizations where similar scrutiny has revealed similar failures of protecting youth.
We should have done better, we are rightfully held to a higher standard.
It is valid to contrast past practices with what happens today. In addition to my experience as a unit level volunteer I have also worked as a director for our camp. I see how reports of abuse are handled today in contrast to how they were handled 30 years ago. From this perspective I can assure you that even suspected incidents are treated seriously and the proper authorities are notified.
It’s clear the B.S.A. is not in denial that past practices were ‘ insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong’. That this is understood at the highest levels of the organization is reflected in National President Wayne Parry’s recent statement:
There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong. Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest apologies to victims and their families.
Answers to Parent’s Questions
Why does Scouting seem to attract abusers? Simply and perhaps inelegantly put; people intent on committing crimes against children are attracted to youth-serving organizations for the same reasons that bank robbers are attracted to banks. Banks have money, youth serving organizations have youth. Abusers will seek admittance to sports teams, schools, churches, to wherever youth gather.
What protections are in place for boys involved in Scouting? The B.S.A. has perhaps the best youth protection paradigm of any organization of it’s type. It is fully explained in ‘Questions and Answers about Youth Protection’.
It child abuse on the increase? It’s important to differentiate between the prevalence of abuse and the number of reports of abuse. Experts tell us it’s difficult to determine statistically if abuse is on the increase, on the decrease or remaining constant. More reported abuse does not necessarily equate with more abuse being perpetrated. It does mean more abuse is coming to the attention of the authorities. Research does give some indication of how many people were abused during childhood forming an estimate of the prevalence of abuse. But all studies are not conducted in the same way, so prevalence is hard to determine accurately.
From my perspective I would say that heightened awareness of abuse, what constitutes abuse, and how it should be reported along with increased training in youth-serving organizations is resulting in more reports. I don’t think abuse is more prevalent, just that we have become more aware and what seems like an increase in prevalence is actually an increase of reporting.
What do We do Next?
This painful, difficult time in an organization that we value and support should serve to strengthen our resolve. As volunteers, as parents, as decent human beings, we will do all in our power to protect all children from abuse. If we have a good-faith suspicion of abuse or a report of abuse is made known to us we’ll be brave enough to report it to the proper authorities.
There will be accusations and ugliness, there will be plenty of attention from the media with the attendant misinterpretations and misunderstandings. We’ll be asked to explain and be vilified in some circles. We cannot excuse what has happened, we can’t change it, we’ll have to own this part of our history to overcome it and move forward.
Let’s not allow this to distract our attention from the aim in our work; the success, safety and happiness of our Scouts. We’ll be prepared.