Wayne Perry, president of the Boy Scouts of America, has said his organization handled things badly and has changed its ways. The organization has instituted more stringent screening and training procedures for volunteers. It will be holding a National Youth Protection Symposium in Atlanta next week. And that’s all well and good. The Scouts’ procedures have improved immeasurably.
But the Boy Scouts are still refusing to release all of the organization’s documents related to the “perversion files” scandal, whose ugly fingers have reached across the country. It required a court order to learn that scoutmasters and others accused of molesting children were often quietly removed from the Scouts and sometimes shielded from the public and law enforcement.
Those documents need to be released. Maintaining walls around the truth will only make things worse for the institution and the victims.
At the time, authorities justified their actions as necessary to protect the good name and good works of Scouting, an argument we’ve all heard before. But as detailed in 14,500 pages of secret files released earlier this month by order of the Oregon Supreme Court, what they did was allow sexual predators to go free while victims suffered in silence, according to news reports.
The files are a part of a larger trove of documents the Boy Scouts began collecting soon after its founding in 1910. The files, which contain details about proven molesters but also unsubstantiated allegations, cover the country and even military bases overseas.
According to reports: The records show that some adult volunteers preyed on multiple children they met through Scouting and that officials didn’t always take abuse allegations to police. In some cases, allegations against prominent men were kept from the public. Men in some cases were asked to leave after convictions. Sometimes, expelled volunteers returned to the organization.
At a news conference earlier this month, The Associated Press reported, Portland attorney Kelly Clark blasted the Boy Scouts for its continuing legal battles to try to keep the full collection of files secret.
“You do not keep secrets hidden about dangers to children,” said Clark, echoing other advocates for sexual abuse victims in other cases. Clark won a landmark lawsuit against the Boy Scouts on behalf of a plaintiff who was molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s.
By fighting to keep those secrets, the Scouts still seem to be acting in ways aimed at protecting the organization rather than victims.
While that may not be unusual for an institution – the Catholic Church is still waging a similar battle regarding its pedophilia scandal – Clark is right: Full disclosure is the only way to regain credibility and the public’s trust.
The instinct by members of an institution — especially an institution as venerated as the Scouts — is to protect it from scandal. But that is always the wrong approach no matter who is involved or who is doing the protecting. Keeping such matters in the shadows often denies justice and can put others at risk.
If the top concern is for children — as it absolutely must be — making sure predators are prosecuted is the only valid response. Quietly removing them from the group only protects the group.
Multiple failures have sadly tarnished the Scouts’ reputation. The scandal is also a reminder that — as Catholic Church officials have long and rightly maintained — sexual abuse scandals are not the sole property of any particular institution.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel