The recent legal settlement resolving decades-old child sexual abuse claims against the Boy Scouts of America by a Snohomish County man brings to light an important issue that too often is ignored or swept aside. It should be a clarion call to parents in Seattle and around the country, especially now as they start their search to identify summer camps for their kids: Ask the right questions of prospective youth serving organizations ahead of time to protect your child’s safety.
The man, known as “B.B.,” claims he was molested twice during the same summer when he was just 14 years old — once by a Snohomish County Boy Scouts volunteer and again by a Boy Scout official at Mount Vernon’s Fire Mountain Boy Scouts Camp. He wasn’t alone.
Recently, 220 new claims of child sexual abuse against the Boy Scouts of America were brought to light. And those pale in comparison to the more than 12,000 victims of child sexual abuse and 7,800 abusers previously revealed by an internal review of the group’s own abuse files. The fact the Boy Scouts created and maintained internal files about historic and ongoing sexual abuse claims in the first place raises deeply unsettling questions.
The claims highlight a systemic pattern of sexual abuse at the Boy Scouts and demonstrate a flagrant disregard for the needs of children. They illuminate a culture where abusers were allowed to prey on innocent children at will and over time. The Boy Scouts failed to adopt fundamental policies to protect children from harm and continued this dereliction of duty for decades.
“Kids are still being abused in scouting. … This is not historical.” That disturbing assessment from Tim Kosnoff, the attorney who exposed the recent allegations, should concern us all, especially now that the Boy Scouts admits girls into its youth programs. Statistics show one in four girls will be abused by her 18th birthday (compared to one in six boys). The Girl Scouts of the USA understood this and took the extraordinary step to publicly confront the issue in an effort to help parents and their daughters understand how to recognize abuse, and stop it from happening.
The public should wonder if the Boy Scouts could have prevented B.B. and thousands of other innocent children from being sexually abused if the organization’s leadership had focused on protecting children. And the families of those boys who were sexually abused have every right to ask the group tough questions. Such as, what policies did the Boy Scouts have in place to protect children from sexual abuse over the last half century — and what are those policies today? Did the Boy Scouts require staff members and volunteers to undergo federal background checks? Were they required to take evidence-based training to understand how to prevent child sexual abuse, how to spot the warning signs or how to report suspected cases of abuse — and what are these policies now? And did the Boy Scouts have any oversight procedures in place to protect those who summoned the courage to report their abusers — and what are those initiatives today?
Sadly, these questions may never be fully answered. Laws that govern statutes of limitations may allow the Boy Scouts to avoid being held criminally responsible for the abuse, as boys generally disclose less frequently than girls, and do so at older ages. And with the wave of anticipated civil litigation from plaintiffs like B.B. who have found their strength to come forward, the organization is exploring the possibility of filing Chapter 11 to protect itself from the increasing number of financial claims that will inevitably follow.
Parents must ask each camp and youth serving organization about its policies, staff selection and training procedures regarding child sexual abuse — and the answers they receive must guide their decision-making. Parents cannot rely on an organization’s name or brand alone. They need to ask what type of background checks are performed on staff and volunteers. They need to ask if an organization has ever been investigated for claims of child sexual abuse.
Protecting children from sexual abuse means asking difficult questions and holding all adults accountable for the answers. Doing so will compel these groups to get their houses in order, and help keep children safe from harm.