With the October 18 public release of thousands of possible child-abuse case files held by the national Boys Scouts of America, including some cases here in San Diego, local scout leaders are reacting. I talked with several adult volunteer scout leaders from the San Diego–Imperial Council's Pacific Coast District (Carmel Valley to La Costa), and they claim the local media is misleading the issue.
Particularly, they point out a Fox 5 morning-news story on October 19. The reporter stated the BSA cases were “an epidemic” and “just the tip of the iceberg,” leading viewers to believe that more revelations were coming from BSA.
The adult scout leaders pointed out that while all the cases are tragic and inexcusable, the files are old, from the 1960s through 1980s. They claim it was a different time back then in the way possible child abuse was reported, or not. In those days, youth organizations may have thought dealing with the matter internally was a way to protect the child and their family from an unjust stigma in the community, which was often the case. Child-abuse issues and discussion of how to improve a system with youth organizations didn't come to light until the Catholic church cases in the late 1990s.
The scout volunteers also felt that the current BSA's Youth Protection Training is a model that other youth organizations are now following around the country. Any adult that will have contact with a scout in a volunteer or leadership capacity must be registered with their local council, which includes a background check. As an example, one scout's dad, who is not a uniformed volunteer, said he couldn't drive his son's patrol to a restaurant without first registering with BSA.
Scout leaders also added that BSA practices “two-deep leadership,” meaning there are always two adults present whenever scouts are around, whether in a Cub Scout den meeting or walking to the snack bar at a Padres game. On overnight treks, only a dad or mom may sleep in the same tent with their own son. Other friends of the scout — even though a parent may know the child and their family — are not allowed to share tents with non-relative adults. Even weekend or summer camp bathroom times have different hours to separate scouts and adults.
Each scout leader I spoke with said it is known by every scout unit leader that any suspected child abuse be reported to the local authorities. One scouter said, “It would be hard to turn in someone you thought was a good friend in scouting, but we all believe that protection and safety of our boys come first. It’s the police's job to sort out the facts.”
Disclosure: I am an assistant Scoutmaster in Troop 2000 in Olivenhain, with two sons in the program. I have eight years of service to scouting. I did not interview anyone from my troop for this story.