The Boy Scouts of America made mistakes in the way it handled some sexual abuse cases, a local official said, but the organization now has more protections in place to recognize, report and prevent abuse.
Mount Baker Council Scout Executive Duane Rhodes talked about the organization's efforts to protect children in light of the release of documents Thursday, Oct. 18, detailing about 1,200 alleged abusers the national organization had listed in confidential files.
The files were from 1959 to 1985, and were collected by the Boy Scouts of America with the goal of keeping pedophiles out of Scouting leadership positions. In many cases, they were successful, but in more than a third of the cases police weren't told about the alleged abuse.
The files included two men in Whatcom County who were arrested and convicted of sex crimes in the 1970s. Thursday's record release was only part of what may have come from Whatcom County. A Los Angeles Times database contains information on about 5,000 people expelled from the Scouts from 1947 to 2005 on suspicion of sexual abuse, including an additional three people from Bellingham and one from Acme.
These cases were identified by numbers, rather than names, and it's unclear what occurred. The reports were created from 1987 to 1992, in Bellingham troops 3, 6, and 3,047, and Acme's troop 31.
Those cases were before Rhodes began working with the Scouts in this area, and he said that any files would have been sent to national headquarters. A woman at the Scouts national media line had no information about what those cases might reference.
Rhodes acknowledged that the organization could have handled abuse allegations better in some cases.
"There was a time when the issue was handled in a less organized, more haphazard manner," he said. "There's no question that mistakes were made and just flat-wrong things were done."
In the 1980s, Boy Scouts of America instituted its youth protection program, which is training for all adults on procedures to follow concerning identifying, preventing and reporting child abuse.
"With today's standards and procedures, I get reports of even a suspicion," he said. "If we have any suspicion of any form of child abuse, we are legally required to report that to law enforcement. Oftentimes the first time we find out a parent or one of the leaders is doing something in that regard is when the police already know about it."
The youth protection program also requires that barriers are put in place between adults and children. For example, one-on-one contact between adults and kids is prohibited, and all outings require two adults and separate accommodation for children and adults.
The organization also does nationwide criminal background checks on everyone who applies to be an adult leader.
Reach ZOE FRALEY at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2803.