Since its creation over 100 years ago, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has covered up its problem of pedophiles targeting Scouting to gain access to young victims. The Boy Scouts built a reputation for being a safe and fun place for boys to learn skills and qualities needed to be good adults, and where adult leaders were trustworthy and upstanding leaders of the community. Boy Scouts told the public that Scout leadership as a “sacred trust” between Scout leaders and Scouts and that Scoutmasters could be trusted to take “responsibility for the moral education and care of other people’s children.”
Official Boy Scout documents told Scout parents and community members that scout leaders should always be a “wise friend to whom [a Scout] can always turn for advice” and encouraged boys “to develop close personal relationships with [Scout] leaders because Boy Scouts believes that providing a close personal relationship with an adult outside the home helps boys in the difficult process of maturing into adulthood.” Adult Scout volunteers take the Scout Oath, promising to “help other people at all times” and follow the Scout Law to be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”
The problem with such a good reputation is that it was only partially true. As Benjamin Franklin warned us, “A half truth is often a great lie.” BSA has always known it had a problem with adult volunteers abusing and sexually exploiting minor Scouts. Since at least 1920, BSA began keeping what are now known as “Ineligible Volunteer Files” (“IV Files”) on individuals supposedly banned from volunteering in Scouting. The “Perversion” category of the IV Files is the largest category and includes adult volunteers accused of any type of sexual misconduct, including molestation or child pornography.
BSA’s IV File system is limited and in no way reflects the actual number of pedophiles in Scouting or the number of children abused in a Scouting context. Most importantly, the IV File system was (and still is) an internal tool only. BSA national headquarters created the files, with information and assistance from local BSA Councils. As a rule, BSA did not tell sponsoring organizations, Troops, parents, or other adult volunteers that the IV File system existed. So, the very people with greatest information about Scout volunteers accused of sexually abusing children did not make any kind of report to the Council or national office.
BSA should have, from the get-go, told the public about its IV File system. Had BSA done so, Scouting could have been the safe activity BSA claimed it was. For instance:
- Had families and Scouts known the truth, they could have taken simple, commonsense measures to protect the children in the troops, such as telling the children to not be alone in a tent or car with an adult volunteer.
- Child molesters would have been on notice that they risked being reported to the national BSA office and, at the very least, identified as a danger and kicked out of Scouting. They may have found other victims, but not in the numbers or with the convenience of gathering them all into a Troop of young children.
- Had other Scout volunteers, families, and sponsoring organizations known about and been trained to use the IV File system, they would have known the warning signs to look for and could have caught and reported more child abusers, thereby saving uncountable numbers of children from abuse.
- If the public knew that Boy Scouts had a system for identifying and tracking child molesters, other youth serving organizations could have adopted similar measures to prevent abuse of their children.
Without any knowledge that child abusers were volunteering for the Boy Scouts in order to find victims, parents trusted adult Scout volunteers to spend substantial amount of time alone with their children, including working on merit badges and going on camping trips. The IV Files provide countless examples of Scouts entrusting themselves to Scout leaders’ guidance and protection while on camping trips, hiking trips, sleepovers, or other events, only to be sexually abused by the Scout leader.
BSA’s records show that it tried to cover up its problem with child molesters so as to not diminish membership. As shown by the cartoon graphic used by the national BSA office, BSA viewed reports of child abuse as fires that needed to be put out. BSA knew its failure to keep child molesters out of Scouts, and parents’ awareness of that failure, would affect parents’ decision to allow their children to participate in Scouts.
If only BSA had put the safety of the children above its own reputation, who knows the countless number of boys (and girls in the co-ed Explorer Scouts) would have been saved from sexual abuse and exploitation.