The stories are stomach-turning: Hundreds of Boy Scout leaders sexually abusing boys in their care, raping them, forcing them to perform oral sex. And none of those cases reported to police, all swept under the rug, scores of abusers allowed to keep their names clean.
The Los Angeles Times reviewed 1,600 confidential, internal Boy Scouts of America files. The paper found an entrenched culture that for decades protected admitted abusers, even allowing them to abuse again. The clear priority: Protecting the reputation of the Boy Scouts and its leaders. The clear victims: Untold numbers of scarred children never given justice.
After revelations of enduring abuse cover-ups in the Catholic Church and Penn State shielding the pedophile Jerry Sandusky from authorities, the Boy Scouts joins the list of once-revered institutions whose employees perpetrated horrible crimes, and whose actions allowed more children to be preyed upon.
The paper reviewed the Scouts’ “perversion files” dating from 1970 to 1991, a blacklist of alleged abusers. It found that in more than 500 cases, the Scouts learned about alleged abuse not from authorities but from boys, parents, staff members and anonymous tips. In about 80 percent of those cases, there is no record of the Scouts reporting the accusations to police. In many cases, the Scouts went out of their way to ensure the confessed abusers would not be outed.
The Boy Scouts’ half-hearted response to these revelations has a familiar feel. Around the nation, the organization has fought the release of the confidential files. It declined even to talk to the Times about its findings. It issued a statement saying, “We have always cooperated fully with any request from law enforcement,” but of course law enforcement wouldn’t have a request if the Scouts don’t inform them of the allegations in the first place.
Not until 2010 did the Boy Scouts require suspicions of abuse to be reported to authorities. The group points out that it began mandating background checks for staffers in the 1990s (but it didn’t apply that requirement to volunteers until 2008). It also says it has stepped up child abuse prevention training.
It’s impossible to know what’s happening now, though, because the Scouts have not released any recent files.
Most importantly, the Boy Scouts have done nothing to hold anyone accountable for earlier decades of unreported crimes. Child abuse experts and a lawyer in a high-profile case against the Boy Scouts in Oregon say it’s possible the numbers of abused are far greater than known because so many victims never reported the abuse. And by not reporting the allegations sooner, statutes of limitations in many states may limit victims’ ability to have their day in court.
The vast majority of Boy Scout leaders, employees and volunteers are, no doubt, altruistic people helping to produce confident, self-sufficient leaders of tomorrow. They do not deserve to be stained in any way by this shameful chapter.
A number, though, were not – and the Boy Scouts clearly had, and may still have, a horrific problem. Rather than fighting a newspaper’s dig into revealing files, the organization should put it all on the table, detail its attempts to make amends for past sins, then spell out precisely why parents of current scouts should have faith that the Boy Scouts of America has no higher priority than the welfare of the children entrusted to it.