It’s a vicious paradox: Organizations focused on helping the young are also magnets for molesters bent on abusing the young.
Predators drawn to children and adolescents have insinuated themselves into virtually every kind of position that gives them access to youth and allows them to hide under a mantle of trust and authority. They’ve become priests, coaches, schoolteachers, youth ministers, rabbis and Scout volunteers.
The organizations and communities they’ve penetrated are often loath to report them, sometimes out of a well-meaning reluctance to expose the youths involved but often out of a self-serving impulse to avoid public shame.
Some leaders of the Boy Scouts of America have succumbed to that temptation in decades past, as the Los Angeles Times documented in extensive detail Sunday.
After reviewing confidential BSA files released in the course of lawsuits, the newspaper found 500 cases of alleged abuses between 1970 and 1991 in which Scout leaders might not have reported the accusations to authorities.
The number may include dubious accusations and perhaps cases where reports were made but not documented. But in 100-plus instances, Scout officials reportedly tried to conceal the allegations – sometimes allowing the accused to leave the organization quietly.
As the Roman Catholic Church has learned to its sorrow, such misplaced sympathy can devastate an organization that allows it to fester – not to mention the future victims of a protected predator. Molesters can’t operate undetected forever; sooner or later, their crimes are likely to surface.
At this point, it would be unfair to conclude that the Boy Scouts are more culpable than other organizations heavily involved in youth.
Many millions of youths and volunteer leaders belonged to the Scouts over the two decades covered by Los Angeles Times’ investigation. There were undoubtedly more than a few hundred cover-ups over this period; the question is, how many more?
It’s apparent that the Scouts were at least trying to keep molesters out of their ranks by maintaining a blacklist of expelled staff members and volunteers.
Youth-oriented organizations have learned a lot about preventing sex abuse in the past couple of decades. The Scouts now employ multiple safeguards, including criminal background checks, mandatory reporting, training and a policy that prohibits any adult from being alone with children.
The lessons weren’t cheap. Two years ago, for example, the Boy Scouts of America was ordered to pay nearly $20 million to a single man for its failure to protect him from an assistant troop leader in the early 1980s.
Other damages are likely in store for the organization. With crimes this grave, there’s no easy escape from the past.