Recently the Boy Scouts of America lost a case in court and a man was awarded over $1 million because he had been mistreated years ago when he was a Scout. The national Scout organization is appealing the decision. While the $1 million is a lot of money, the punitive damage award is still to come. What is the value of a life changed by early mistreatment by a trusted advisor? How do we determine how much is too much?
Clearly if I had the answers to these questions I would be doing more than writing for the Boy Scout site on BellaOnLine. While we cannot go back to correct the problems of the past, the Boy Scouts of America is taking huge strides to help insure these types of incidents do not occur. And certainly that is the best remedy- preventing situations from developing.
When I was a Boy Scout (and that was back when there was still a Lion badge in Cub Scouts) I’m sure there were occasions where boys were mistreated by their leaders. I never was aware of anything like that. Maybe they were simpler times. Maybe there are just so many more people involved in Scouting today that the actual number of occurrences is larger but the percentage of occurrences is still very small. Maybe we are more likely to report offences today. Maybe the media and the attorneys see awards and large rewards by focusing on the exceptional situation. Whatever the cause, Scouting by the design of the organization is an arena that can attract individuals with character problems. It is our job as Scouters to make sure we protect our youth from these individuals without harming the leadership and training program that only Scouting can offer our young people.
National and local councils have implemented significant checks to help prevent questionable individuals from entering the Scouting program. While you may feel reluctant to complete these forms each time you change your leadership position, understand that a little inconvenience on your part may be the process that helps keep our youth protected.
The second level of defense against these situations is “Youth Protection Training” and “Two-Deep Leadership.” The first time I took the Youth Protection Training course I got pretty upset when we got to the last portion of the course. The instructor said that if I were accused of something by a boy, I would be considered guilty of the offense unless I could prove I was innocent. This offended me on a couple of levels. First, how do you prove a negative? Second, I was a volunteer giving up my time to help teach our Scouts leadership and Scouting skills and this is how I get treated for offering to help. Obviously this was not the first time the instructor had heard this objection. His answer was simple and straight to the point. “You are the adult. Don’t let yourself get in a position to be compromised.” Two-deep leadership and the principals taught in the Youth Protection Course will keep you out of this type of situation.
Finally, learn your state laws for reporting suspected child abuse. In Texas it can be a crime if this type of situation is not reported. Learn how to report suspected child abuse, when to report it and to what organization you make the report.
Scouting is a great program. It gave me the opportunity to become someone I would never have become if Scouting had not existed. Work to keep that small number of individuals that would harm our youth out of Scouting so that Scouting can live up to the potential that our youth expect and deserve.