The issue: Insistence on confidentiality is not the way to go
As an organization, the Boy Scouts of America is anything but oblivious to the problem of child predators. The year after its founding in 1910, the organization started requiring reference checks for scoutmasters and soon afterward began cross-checking adult applicants to Scouting positions against a confidential file of “ineligible volunteers” — individuals considered unfit for the organization.
These so-called “perversion files” for decades were a primary defense intended to keep adult molesters out of Scouting’s ranks.
RECENTLY, a team of investigative reporters was able to examine a set of files from 1970 to 1991, provided by an attorney who’d obtained them in lawsuits representing victims. (More files from an earlier period were publicly released under court order Oct. 18, and pending lawsuits may prompt the release of additional files.)
An examination of those files shows an imperfect system for screening the Scouts’ 1.1 million adult leaders — mostly volunteers — and protecting the 2.7 million Scouts entrusted to their care. Keeping molesters out of the leadership ranks is a continuous struggle; in many ways, it is analogous to the Catholic Church’s struggle with pedophile priests.
In both instances, there is a strong institutional disposition to secrecy.
In a 1968 case in Wisconsin that only came to light in 1991, scoutmaster John P. Treder was quietly ousted from the organization for allegedly climbing into the bunk of one of his Scouts and molesting the boy, who could only get the adult to leave by agreeing to kiss him. Treder later reappeared in charge of training acolytes at a Catholic Church in a Milwaukee suburb, where he was charged with assaulting a 10-year-old boy. Only then did the police learn of the earlier assault.
In examining 1,881 of the files, journalists found allegations of sexual abuse against hundreds of Scout leaders, involving at least 2,000 Cub and Boy Scouts and Explorers.
THE SCOUTS rely heavily on volunteers and sponsoring organizations with reputations to protect. Often, the accused leaders are popular members of the organization — molesters are notoriously engaging and friendly — and there is a natural tendency among sponsors to keep quiet, hoping the whole mess goes away. Of 416 cases first brought to the attention of senior Scouting officials, only 117 — 28 percent — were reported to local police.
The Boy Scouts in 2010 began requiring that “good faith” suspicions of abuse be reported to police. The organization is reviewing files going back to 1965 and has pledged to give police any evidence of crimes by scout leaders.
But there is a serious disconnect. National Scout leaders assure all allegations will be reported to authorities. But, they insist they still must keep internal reports of misdeeds out of the public eye, arguing that victims and their families will be more likely to come forward if they can do so confidentially.
However, the confidentiality, the reluctance of victims to come forward and of local organizations to comply with the Boy Scouts’ strict rules, and the misplaced resistance to ratting out a colleague may only leave the predator free to prey somewhere else. And the compulsion is such that they will prey again — if not in Scouting, then with other youths.