Scouts take heed, hit abuse head-on
By Patrick Boyle
May 24, 1991
Fifth of five parts
1. Scouting's Sex Abuse Trail Leads to 50 States, by Patrick Boyle, Washington Times (May 20, 1991)
2. 25 Years of Abuse Kept Molester Moving, by Patrick Boyle, Washington Times (May 21, 1991)
3. Corporate Policy Kept Abuse Secret, by Patrick Boyle, Washington Times (May 22, 1991)
4. Boy Fled Terror, Shame by Suicide, by Patrick Boyle, Washington Times (May 23, 1991)
5. Scouts Take Heed, Hit Abuse Head-On, by Patrick Boyle, Washington Times (May 24, 1991)
See also The Abusers - State by State, Washington Times (May 20, 1991)
© The Washington Times
The Boy Scouts of America never thought it would come to this: A Scout, they say, is sometimes "rude and unhelpful."
They also never thought they'd be teaching Scoutmasters and Scouts about men who have sexual relations with children. "It isn't really why we came into existence," said Joseph Anglim, the Scouts' administrative director.
But growing public awareness of sex abuse and lawsuits by abused Scouts have propelled the Boy Scouts of America into the sex education business. Even some of the rules of Scouting have changed to help prevent abuse and catch abusers sooner.
After decades of shying away from the problem, the Scouts have created what many child abuse experts call one of the best sex abuse education programs in the country. The program teaches boys, leaders and parents about resisting, recognizing and reporting abuse. It also corrects some problems that made the Scouts attractive to molesters and vulnerable to damage claims.
"We've got our act together now," said Terry Tibor, spokesman for the Los Angeles Area Council of the Boy Scouts. "The scary part is all that happened in the past. Hopefully we're getting a handle on some of it."
It wasn't easy. To institute the sex abuse program, the organization had to overcome skittishness among longtime Scouters and concerns about scaring away volunteers and children.
"It was something we had to take time to be alert to because we could no longer hide from it," said Mickey McAllister, a former Scouting official who helped create the program.
The effort began soon after Ben Love became the nation's chief Scout executive in 1985. He said he was on a plane one night thinking about sex abuse scandals, such as the one at the McMartin Preschool in California, and decided the Boy Scouts should do something to fight abuse. He said his idea had nothing to do with sex abuse in the Scouts or lawsuits by victims.
"The protection of the corporation never entered our minds," he said. "We knew of minimal cases."
Other Scout officials said the program's development was partly fueled by fear of lawsuits and by reports of sex abuse in Scouting.
"Our concern evolved out of a number of cases, with lawyers saying to us originally: `You do nothing to train your people. You've hidden this thing. We feel you're vulnerable,' " Mr. McAllister said.
Mr. Love declared sex abuse to be one of the Boy Scouts' five "intolerables" - national problems the Scouts have vowed to fight. The others are drug abuse, hunger, illiteracy and youth unemployment.
The Scouts hired John Patterson, former deputy director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to create a sex abuse education program. They also created a volunteer task force with some of the nation's top child abuse experts, including David Finkelhor, co-director of the family research laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, and Anne Cohn, director of the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse, based in Chicago.
All three said in interviews that the Scouts were dedicated to creating a state-of-the-art program. They said they did not study the problem of abuse in Scouting.
Attorneys for the Boy Scouts did know about abuse in Scouting and helped shape the program. Mr. Patterson said the lawyers gave him virtually free rein but wanted to be sure the program didn't say anything that could be used against the Scouts in suits by abused boys.
Such lawsuits had taught the Scouts where they were vulnerable in court. For instance, Scout leaders had testified that the organization never told them anything about sex abuse.
"We never touched the subject," Mr. McAllister said. "As those suits found us vulnerable, we found ways to try to counter that with training, with information."
There were concerns, however, about how Scout leaders would react to discussions about sex between adults and children. "The ground-level guy who has spent 30 years camping out with boys because he loves them, they had a hard time understanding this," Mr. McAllister said. "They never had this problem. They'd say, `You guys are nuts.' "
Mr. McAllister set out to convince leaders around the country that sex abuse was a nationwide problem that the Scouts should tackle. He also advised the experts on making sure their education program for Scout leaders wouldn't end up offending the leaders.
"You wouldn't want to pinpoint, if there are 40 of them in the room, and say, `Five of you in the room are going to abuse kids,' " Mr. McAllister said. "They'd all quit."
Another concern was that troop sponsors and parents would find this an odd subject for the Scouts. "We agonized over that, over people's perception of `Isn't this a kind of dirty thing for the Boy Scouts to be talking about?' " Mr. Anglim said.
The Scouts gradually released articles and pamphlets about sex abuse and by the end of 1989 had in place a full-scale education program for adult leaders and children. Mr. McAllister and Mr. Patterson said the response from adult leaders was overwhelmingly positive. In more than two dozen interviews with adult leaders for these stories, all said they welcomed the program.
It includes a "youth protection" course for Scout professionals and adult volunteers, which revolves around a 90-minute videotape. The video blends education about sex abuse with lessons on Scouting procedures designed to prevent abuse or quickly remove suspected abusers from troops.
The video is mandatory for most professional Scouters, such as those who run local Scout councils, but not for volunteers. Many volunteers do see the video, but many Scoutmasters never have and probably never will. William Cheesman and Edward Allinson, Scout leaders in Maryland, said national headquarters seems afraid that requiring the course might make some volunteers decide that Scouting is too much trouble.
"Scouting has fallen short" by not making the course mandatory for volunteers, Mr. Allinson said.
Mr. Anglim said national headquarters cannot require volunteers to see the video.
Boys see a very different video. Called "A Time to Tell," the half-hour video features three boys talking about their experiences with men who made sexual advances toward them. But it's not mandatory either.
The Boy Scout Handbook now includes a one-page discussion of sex abuse and a 24-page pamphlet called "How to Protect Your Children from Child Abuse and Drug Abuse: A Parent's Guide." The pamphlet says a Scout "does not have to obey an adult when that person tells him to do something that the Scout feels is wrong or that makes the Scout feel uncomfortable." Other Scout materials say a Scout "can be rude or unhelpful if the situation warrants."
"They're changing the notion that the kids are always supposed to obey their pack leader," Mr. Finkelhor said.
The videos and pamphlets never mention that Scout leaders sometimes molest boys, although the material does refer to teachers, policemen, uncles and sometimes "youth group leaders." Mr. Anglim said the Scouts made the materials generic so other youth groups can use them. Several people who worked on the program said the Scouts also didn't want to scare parents and children or offend Scout volunteers by naming Scout leaders as potential abusers.
As a sex abuse education program, child abuse experts say, it may be unmatched.
"They've done a really first-rate job," Mr. Finkelhor said. "They have confronted the problem head-on."
That's a big change for the Scouts. They believe that with their massive "delivery system" - a network of more than 1 million volunteers and more than 4 million children - they can reach more children and child care workers than any organization in the nation.
"We'd like to be the foremost prevention-education force," Mr. Anglim said. "Because we should be."