On September 6th, 2023, Netflix releases its latest documentary, Scouts Honor. It will depict how Boy Scouts of America (BSA) attempted to conceal a child sexual abuse scandal of immense proportion in American history. BSA has accumulated more than 1 million members since its inception in 1910 (Boy Scouts of America), similarly modeled to its British counterpart named the Boy Scout Association. Its mission to “prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetime by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law,” is the foundation for its seemingly esteemed reputation. Congress chartered BSA in 1916 under Title 36, recognizing it as a “patriotic and national organization” (TIME Magazine). Additionally, the Title permits Congress to investigate the organization, which it never has (Washington Post). It is astonishingly ironic that certain individuals responsible for upholding righteous principles also perpetuated antithetical actions for nearly a century. Further into the blog, insight from Domestic Violence Investigation Expert and current Pack Master, Rachael Frost, Master Inv. (ret.) will be highlighted. Until then, here is a historical timeline of the Boy Scouts of America scandal.
Boy Scouts of America Child Sexual Abuse Misconduct (Abuse in Scouting)
- 1920: BSA began collecting reports of volunteers accused of child abuse called “Red Files” just ten years after it was founded.
- 1971: Unbeknownst to most Scouting employees, executives disclosed eradicating thousands of outdated “Perversion Files,” accounts of known child molesters within BSA. Files were eradicated if the abuser was over eighty years old or deceased.
- 2007: The Boy Scouts of America faced its first lawsuit. Six former Boy Scouts in Oregon sued the organization for child sexual abuse by a previous scoutmaster in the 1980s. The jury consumed thousands of internal reports and saw how severely BSA mishandled sexual misconduct claims. As a result, the organization paid the plaintiffs $19 million in damages.
- 2012: The Oregon case documents were made public. From the records, investigators discovered that officials implored sexual abusers to relinquish their positions rather than report them to the police, covering for the abusers to the detriment of the Scouts.
- 2020: The Boy Scouts of America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after many sex abuse claims and listed assets totaling almost $10 billion.
- March 28th, 2023: BSA settled a class action lawsuit. Reuters states, “The Coalition of Abused Scouts for Justice, a group of 18,000 sexual abuse survivors, said the agreement would bring ‘some justice to tens of thousands of survivors, men and woman, many of whom would have been waiting for decades for this day to arrive.” The youth organization reached a $2.4 billion settlement because of this class action and the decades of sexual abuse claims filed (CNN). Depending on the allowed amount of the claims, individual survivors are expected to receive between $3,500 to $2.7 million in damages per claim. BSA also implemented its Plan of Reorganization consisting of programs dedicated to preventing child abuse, from background checks to prohibiting adult and child one-on-one sessions.
Expert Q & A Section:
Domestic Violence Investigation Expert, Rachael Frost, Master Inv. (ret.), explains common characteristics among abusers, how to identify grooming behaviors, and potential legal reforms for the future:
*Disclaimer* – This article does not discuss pedophilia. This is a psychiatric diagnosis defined as “over a period of at least 6 months, an equal or greater sexual arousal from prepubescent or early pubescent children than from physically mature persons, and manifested by fantasies, urges, or behaviors,” (Psychology Today).
Q #1: In your experience, are there common characteristics or behaviors of known or suspected child abusers? If so, what are they?
A #1: Let’s focus primarily on those who commit sexual abuse against children. Regardless of motivation – whether an intense sexual arousal towards children, or specifically young boys, or because of a sexual desire to manipulate, control, and have sex with children due to vulnerability or opportunity, yes, child molesters have very similar tactics.
The following statement is not to tarnish any fields or people within them with heart and dedication for our youth. There are certain jobs that give perpetrators more access to a child and their family’s trust. They provide chances for them to simultaneously praise and condemn a child’s actions and personality traits to get them to rely more upon the perpetrator’s positive interaction. It allows them to isolate a child without raising extreme suspicion. Overall, they generally choose jobs where they are around children. You do not become an accountant.
Common tactics include:
- Choosing a Vulnerable Victim: Kids with poorer relationships with family/foster child/looking for sense of belonging/lonely/taking advantage of a friendly connection.
- It is important to note that being a vulnerable victim is NOT the victim’s fault. None of this is their fault. It is the perpetrator’s fault and manipulation.
- Providing Special Consideration: “Love Bombing”/special gifts or treatment.
- Providing Access to Risky Behaviors: Alcohol/drugs/porn/parties/staying up all night/going to places parents would not approve/etc.
- Personal Time: Extra time together/going to a gym/spending time at the perpetrator’s house.
- Sharing Secrets
- Sharing Touch: Gradually getting them used to touch to “accidentally” grazing more intimate places.
- Projecting Guilt: “If you do not do this for me you do not think I am special, you do not care.”
- Sexual Contact: Framing intercourse or sexual contact as a learning process and normal.
- Denials, Promises, & Blame: The perpetrator relies on their good standing in the community. The abuser also blames the victim’s “bad behavior” if any possible disclosure is heard.
- Power and Control: Promising Withholding [below]/promising to tarnish the person’s reputation if they say anything/using homosexuality as a manipulation tactic.
- Withholding: Time/gifts/secrets/promises – when the victim pulls away or does not meet control requirements of the perpetrator.
Q #2: Do you think State and Federal legal reform is necessary to mitigate child sexual abuse?
A #2: Yes, reform should be considered in four areas –
- Regulations for Access and How Adults Interact with Children: The Scouts have required safety courses, fingerprinting, and a safety video advising no single adult should ever be alone with a Scout. However, it must be greater to include a full background check by a trained background investigator…, and specific, defined interaction requirements that are subject to civil or criminal investigation if violated.
- No adult/set of adult in a room away from other children and adults.
- Rotating parent involvement.
- Mandatory awareness training for all parents becoming involved in an organization for what behaviors are unacceptable.
- Child education regarding what association representatives should and should not do.
- Education for and Increased Types of Professions Who Are Mandated Reporters of Child Abuse or Neglect: Even those who are mandated reporters too often do not report, often because they either do not know they should report or are dissuaded by executive staff.
- Increased Annual Education for Children and Safe Spaces for Children to Report Abuse and Neglect: Children should know who they can talk to. They can come to the front office, or talk to a teacher, officer, parent, or mentor they trust. Examples of what predators say to keep children from saying anything, and discussing grooming tactics openly, are all important.
- Mandated Policies and Procedures to be followed in Child Abuse and Neglect Reports and Investigations and Consequences for Legal Failures: Addressing legal failures that prevent mandated reporters and investigators from letting incidents fall through the cracks is necessary. Including protections for mandated reporters begins with confidentiality and job protection. This should also include specific, supportive direction and significant consequences for the knowing failure to meet these legal requirements.
Emphasizing parent education about what grooming looks like can also mitigate child sexual abuse in organizations like the Boy Scouts of America. Parents are advised not to leave their children or a group of children alone with a single adult, no sleepovers, or traveling alone with adults. Finally, they should also pay attention to the amount of time an adult spends with their child and gifts being given to their specific child and not others.
Q #3: Will the Boy Scouts of America’s reorganization reforms successfully reduce abuse, and are there other processes it should institute to prevent abuse?
A #3: This is a start, and additional safety features may be put in place. However, like all programs, it cannot simply be an add-on program. It must become a mantra, a process, a part of what the Scouts are. It must be prevalent in how leaders conduct themselves, messaging from the association, from schools, parents, and participants.
Q #4: In my lifetime, I’ve seen massive organizational abuse and coverups in both the Catholic Church and now the Boy Scouts. Are there other organizations where similarly massive scandals are currently under investigation?
A #4: There are a few reasons why abuse in Scouting was prevalent for so long. While these could be argued as good things, it combined religion, youth mentorship, and regulated behaviors (uniforms, respect, pride, honor) with a leader responsible for teaching children lifelong and beneficial skills embodying the roles of God and righteousness. Parents and other community members saw these gregarious and friendly leaders as pinnacles of the community. They were held to a high standard, supposedly met the standard, and were above reproach. Still, underneath all that friendliness is a complicated, harmful monster. The difficult part is spotting the wolf among the overwhelming group of great pack and troop leaders.
I became a Pack Master because I believe in the mission of providing children a safe space to learn and create community. I wanted to establish an environment where I knew that kids were celebrated for who they were without judgment and mitigate misplaced patriarchy. Fostering the recognition of every culture, race, religion/non-religion, sexual orientation, and gender identification is important. Respect, community, and positive behaviors can develop without fear of Eric Cartman’s (South Park) “You will respect my authori-tay” mentality.
Specifically regarding organizational coverups, they occur in any system or association. Organizations need executive staff members who recognize the true issues of an ongoing problem are 1) wrong; and 2) have to be addressed effectively and transparently. The messages and processes for this leadership must be clear throughout the entire organization and community. Any entity has to inquire about its “Business Culture” during its strategic planning and must meet in all they do. It is crucial for organizations, especially those that serve children, to lead ethically. Lastly, ethics do not rest on a checklist, as true solutions are holistic and complete with redundancies and iteration.
Expert Parting Words:
Emphatically, no one should be above the law and of decency. Evidence-based investigation is vital. We cannot allow for anything otherwise or else we are just giving into cancel culture. There is often extreme corroborative evidence in these cases, especially when law enforcement can quickly get to them.
According to Rolling Stone Magazine and Brian Knappenberger (director of the upcoming Netflix documentary), “There are over 82,000 and counting survivors of sexual abuse in Scouting.” From the Scouts Honor trailer alone, the courage and fearlessness of the interviewees involved are highly commendable. Tomorrow’s release will provide a more detailed depiction of the severity of BSA’s abominable actions and the suffering it induced. From the current circulation of news, the Boy Scouts of America has undergone a three-year financial reconfiguration process. It also enacted a Plan of Reorganization, where a series of protection policies were implemented to ensure children’s safety. Examples include required youth protection training for employees and volunteers, criminal background checks for staff and leaders, and the ban on one-on-one interactions between adults and scouts. Hopefully, the youth organization and historic institution will clean up its act and keep its promises to survivors by breaking its cycle of criminal behavior.
A special thank you to our Domestic Violence Investigation expert and Pack Master, Rachael Frost, Master Inv. (ret.), for taking the time to provide her contributions.