Abuse by a Scout Leader

A Burnsville Scoutmaster has been accused of molesting three troop members.

It’s impossible to 100% prevent such incidents, just as it’s impossible to prevent death and injury during scouting events. Scouts are specifically taught how to identify and deal with potential abuse situations. Leaders are taught to avoid situations that might enable abuse. For example, individual leaders are never supposed to be alone with individual scouts. We call this “two deep leadership.”

Kent York published a statement by the Northern Star Council about the incident. Kent provides the Official Word, of course. My own comments are as an individual volunteer.

The Boy Scouts of America takes the threat of abuse very, very seriously. The BSA established a whole suite of training to protect scouts against abuse. Scouts receive training on how to identify potential abusive situations and how to deal with inappropriate behavior. Leaders are taught how to deliver the scouting program without putting kids at risk. Leaders are supposed to retake the “Youth Protection” training every other year. If all leaders follow the rules, then kids are never at risk.

Here’s the problem: it’s sometimes inconvenient or annoying to follow the rules. As a merit badge counselor, I meet with individual scouts. The venue is always at a public event, like a troop meeting. You never need to meet privately with a scout. On the other hand, scouts occasionally request a private meeting at a different time. For example, a scout might be coming close to a deadline, and need to finish things before the next meeting.

When I was a kid, it was routine to go to a counselor’s house to do a merit badge. Today, a scout must bring a buddy to such a meeting, and/or we need another adult present. That’s harder to arrange, but it’s the rule.

Some people routinely bend the rules. If the leader is a family friend, then it seems OK to meet privately with a scout. Or, if you’re a friend of a friend. Or, if the leader seems to be a “really great guy.” And so on. Once you start bending the rules, where do you stop?

When the “good guys” allow the rules to bend, we enable the bad guys.

The BSA has put a lot of effort into the youth protection training. Like any sensible security training, it starts by describing the threat: the process by which abusers attack children. Then it explains the rules for leaders, and how those rules interfere with the abuse process.

The good news in this horrible bit of reportage is that such abuse is rare in Scouting. The bad news is that the youth protection training failed those three Scouts.

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