Over the past month, questions have been raised about how safe Boy Scouts are from sexual abuse.
The questions come in the wake of Los Angeles Times reports supplied by the Boy Scouts about thousands of files that contain the names of Scout leaders who allegedly abused boys from 1947 to 2005.
The Scouts have created videos and other material to help educate boys about potential abuse. In one surprisingly frank video, a teen-ager finds himself alone with a family friend who wants to seduce him.
It’s one of several in a series called "Time to Tell." Boy Scout officials encourage local troops to show the tapes, although it’s not mandatory.
The Boy Scouts organization has been in the spotlight since the Los Angeles Times released earlier this fall its "Perversion Files" report. That online project contains thousands of files naming Scout leaders who abused boys over almost 60 years.
Prospective scout masters are required to take an online sexual abuse prevention course. They must submit to background checks, and there must always be two adults with any scouts at all times. Ed McCollin is Scout Executive at the Green Mountain Council, which oversees all the state troops.
"And we are on the cutting edge of protecting our young people and have partnered with law enforcement agencies with other youth organizations that have begun to use our model for their organizations,"McCollin said. "So it’s been a big deal. It’s been a very large concern for the Boy Scouts because we know that we put the trust of parents in our organization in our leaders and we have to make sure we do the absolute best to remove any doubts about the safety of children."
The safety of children is what David Finkelhor studies. He directs the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. Finkelhor commends the Boy Scouts for making a turnaround in preventing abuse within their ranks, and he worries that the latest reports will paint an untrue picture of scouting today.
"I think they still have some challenges in making sure that as many kids as possible get exposed to these materials and that their training is really deep and that everybody understands it. But I don’t think people should get the impression that this is an organization that is mishandling this issue now or that kids are at high risk in scouting activities," Finkelhor said.
But advocates for victims of sexual abuse believe parents should not let their guard down. David Clohessey is a founder of Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Priests, or SNAP. His organization has recently opened its doors to victims of scouting abuse, and he doubts that sex abuse prevention programs fully deter chronic predators, who may have escaped detection years ago. He wants to see more aggressive prosecution.
"If these records reflected child sex crimes by a street gang, I don’t think you would see prosecutors passively sitting back and saying, ‘Well, gee, no one has called me saying they’ve been victimized by scouts or in this gang.’ You know pros would be pounding the table, and calling news conferences and issuing press releases, saying, ‘Please, please, this has obviously been going on other places, it could still be going on and it may be going on right in my city or county,’"Clohessey said.
Bob Belenky, a psychologist who has treated patients who were abused in Vermont as Boy Scouts, says it is not the only youth organization that needs to be vigilant against predators.
"I believe that many trusted organizations harbor people who are untrustworthy, so if you are untrustworthy to begin with what better cover is there than a trusted organization?"Belenkey said.
The long-term solution, Belenky believes, is to make sure that young people who are especially vulnerable have strong, healthy communities in which to grow up, and that they feel free to tell responsible adults when they fear or suffer abuse.