Last week, Michael Johnson, the former Youth Protection Director for the Boy Scouts of America, told parents and the public a sad and simple truth: Scouting is not a safe place for kids.
If you missed Michael’s emotional statement – one that included a heartfelt apology to every scout who was sexually abused and marginalized by the Boy Scouts of America—we thought we would revisit the top five reasons that Scouting is not safe for kids RIGHT NOW.
- Scouting activities—by their very nature—are unsafe.
When the average person thinks of Scouting and the Boy Scouts of America, the first activity that comes to mind is the extended overnight camping trip. While Scouts BSA executive leadership tells us that these trips build lifelong memories and leadership skills, what they don’t say is that these trips are staffed by untrained and unscreened volunteers. While scout leaders do undergo a criminal background check, there is no reference check and no interview process that can screen out potentially dangerous or problematic leaders. Any of these leaders could be a known predator within the chartering organizations who comes up “clean” on a criminal background check
- The mixing of kids of varying ages, and a lack of appropriate adult supervision.
More than 50% of the sexual abuse that occurs in Scouting is perpetrated by other youth. While Johnson was able to implement a policy that did not allow older youth to share tents with younger youth, there is currently no screening process that identifies scouts who are already offenders or who exhibit behaviors that indicate the scout could be a risk to other youth.
- A culture of secrecy within Scouting programs.
Child sexual abuse thrives in secrecy. When an organization like Scouting fosters secrecy within its programs, like Order of the Arrow, secret ceremonies, and a culture of silence, predators gain additional access and opportunity for sexual abuse. Predators know that if the sexual abuse is perpetrated under a cloud of institutional secrecy, the child is bound by the additional “oath” to keep silent to preserve the honor of the program or secret society.
- A culture of secrecy within some chartering organizations, like churches. Like Scouting, many of the chartering organizations (the organizations that sponsor a Scouting troop) are churches that have additional secret ceremonies, religious rules about sexual behavior, honor codes, and a ministerial power structure that shames kids into silence about sexual abuse.
- The 72-hour rule. One of the most pernicious practices in Scouting is the “72-hour rule.” This policy states that if an overnight trip lasts less than 72 hours, anyone over the age of 18 can accompany the scout troop (boys or girls) with no screening whatsoever. Most standard weekend trips can allow unscreened “hangers-on” according to this rule.
Until the executive leadership of Scouts BSA recognizes the huge and inherent risks in Scouting and takes definitive action to implement policies and hire expert professionals to ensure the safety of its members, no child—no matter age, gender, or troop—is safe in Scouting.