FAIRBANKS — Recently, there has been much discussion in the press about the Boy Scouts of America and the release of files on people deemed ineligible to be scout volunteers. Unfortunately, the issue has been sensationalized, largely by legal predators.
The reality is far different.
The three incidents noted in Fairbanks (approximately 30 years ago) in a recent News-Miner article were all proactively handled by the leaders of scouting at that time. When they learned of improper behavior, local leaders appear to have added adults to the national ineligible volunteer file. I say “appear” because there are no files kept on individuals locally (because of confidentiality), so we are not aware of any of the details from 30 to 40 years ago.
The Boy Scouts of America, as an organization, like the society it serves, has progressed in its recognition of and defense against issues of child abuse during the past century. Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts have served more than 100 million youths. What may have been thought appropriate responses 50 or 100 years ago are unacceptable in the 21st century. This coupled with the unfortunate fact that some cases were not handled properly, even considering the mores of the time, has created concern about an organization that has given esteemed service to our nation.
A University of Virginia study completed last month found an incidence of abuse in scouting programs of approximately 2 per 100,000. The same study found 70 cases per 100,000 in the general population. Although any statistic above zero is unacceptable, it should be noted that scouts are 35 times safer at scouting activities than the general youth population.
How has BSA achieved such an enviable record? Partly, it has been through maintaining files on known and suspected predators such as those causing the current sensation. More importantly, however, it has been achieved through a comprehensive program of youth protection training and reporting.
All Boy Scout leaders are required to take youth protection training every two years. The program covers topics such as inappropriate forms of contact, bullying and hazing prevention, privacy issues, cyber-bullying and adequate adult supervision. Parents are advised of youth protection guidelines on an annual basis and policies are published in every youth and adult handbook and the Guide to Safe Scouting.
Additionally, scouting’s local partners, the churches and civic organizations that sponsor scout units, are required to approve the application of each adult scout volunteer.
For 102 years, the Boy Scouts of America has taught citizenship and character development to millions of boys. If you would like to see how successful BSA has been in this effort, I recommend you look at a study by Baylor University titled “Eagle Scouts, Beyond the Merit Badge.” It is available free on-line. Astronauts, Nobel scientists, world-class athletes, Pulitzer Prize winning authors and even presidents have credited scouting as being fundamental to their success in life. As importantly, millions of solid citizens and family men earning an honest living have had their character formed through Scouting.
Any abuse is intolerable, but the Boy Scouts of America has an impressive record of proactively protecting the young people and families it serves.
The 8,297 local boys and girls in our Learning for Life program and the 1,427 boys in our traditional Cub Scout, Scout and Venture programs are all safer in our community because of Scouting.
Gary Lewis serves as scout executive of the Midnight Sun Council. His service extends through 37 years as a professional in Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Nevada and now Alaska for the past two years. The Midnight Sun Council serves nearly 10,000 youth in the Interior of Alaska, with headquarters in Fairbanks.