The Boy Scouts of America places the greatest importance on creating the safest and most secure environment possible for our youth members. Throughout the years, BSA has improved its leadership screening and selection policies that provide qualified and dedicated parents (virtually all of whom are parents of Scouts or former Scouts) and leaders supported by professional BSA staff from the Heart of America Council. All are committed to protecting the youth we serve.
Scouting has a rich and respected history of providing one of this country’s finest youth-serving organizations. Physical, sexual or emotional abuse is not acceptable in Scouting, whether it occurred 50 years ago, 20 years ago, five years ago, or today. The ineligible volunteer or “perversion files” clearly show that mistakes were certainly made and that the policies of the past were not adequate to protect Scouts. Shaun Hittle’s articles published Nov. 18 are a stark reminder that the duty to protect our youth is owned by the entire community. Keeping children safe is a responsibility shared not only by Boy Scouts but by law enforcement, prosecutors, teachers, religious leaders and, most importantly, parents. When any one part fails, children become victims. All of us suffer.
It is difficult to imagine the harm inflicted on victims and their families when sexual abuse occurs. Abuse, violence of any kind, but especially the sexual abuse of a child, is extremely difficult to confront. In almost every instance, it is shrouded in secrecy, threats and fear. The perpetrators are almost always people we know. People we trust. People who shock us and betray us when they harm our children.
As a Scout adult leader for over 20 years, I am confident that youth protection is paramount in everything we do. Will the current policies prevent abuse from ever occurring? Unfortunately, no. The current policies, however, represent a clear message to anyone serving or interested in serving as an adult leader in Scouting. Abuse of a child will not be tolerated. Suspected abuse will be referred to law enforcement. Period.
There are over 500 adult leaders registered in Douglas County. Each leader is screened through a criminal history background check and trained to prevent, recognize and report any suspected abuse to law enforcement. The J-W articles identify failures in schools, law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts. Although the files generally cover crimes that occurred anywhere from 10 to 50 years ago, the threat remains and, because the threat continues to exist, we have a duty to be vigilant and unrelenting in our efforts to do our best to assure the safety of our youth.
The headline was about Scouting because the Boy Scouts of America has a well-deserved reputation as one of this country’s finest organizations for youth. Scouting provides so many exceptional opportunities for boys and girls. Over 1,100 boys and girls in Douglas County wear the uniform of a Cub Scout, Boy Scout or Venture Crew member. As a Scout leader in Lawrence, I accept the challenge to uphold that reputation. I am also confident that leaders throughout the Pelathe District (Douglas County) and the Heart of America Council join me in accepting that challenge on behalf of each and every youth in our community.