Recently there has been much discussion in the press about the Boy Scouts of America and the release of files on people deemed ineligible to be Scout volunteers. Unfortunately the issue has been sensationalized, largely by legal predators, dancing manically like savages discovering fire.
The reality is far different.
BSA as an organization, like the society it serves, has progressed in its recognition of and defense against issues of child abuse over the past century. Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts have served more than 100 million youth. What may have been thought appropriate responses 50 or 100 years ago are unacceptable in the 21st century. This coupled with the unfortunate fact that some cases were not handled properly, even considering the mores of the time, has created concern about an organization that has given esteemed service to our nation.
A University of Virginia study cited in an Arizona Republic article on Oct. 23 found an incidence of abuse in Scouting programs of approximately two per 100,000. The same study found 70 cases per 100,000 in the general population. Although any statistic above zero is unacceptable, it should be noted that Scouts are 35 times safer at Scouting activities than the general youth population.
How has BSA achieved such an enviable record? Partly it has been through maintaining files on known and suspected predators such as those causing the current sensation. More importantly, however, it has been achieved through a comprehensive program of youth protection training and reporting.
All Boy Scout leaders are required to take youth protection training every two years. I just renewed my certification this month. The program covered topics such as inappropriate forms of contact, bullying and hazing prevention, privacy issues, cyber-bullying and adequate adult supervision. Parents are advised of youth protection guidelines on an annual basis, and policies are published in every youth and adult handbook and the Guide to Safe Scouting.
Additionally, Scouting's local partners, the churches and civic organizations that sponsor Scout units, are required to approve the application of each adult Scout volunteer.
For 102 years, the Boy Scouts of America has taught citizenship and character development to millions of boys. If you would like to see how successful BSA has been in this effort, I recommend you look at a study by Baylor University titled, "Eagle Scouts, Beyond the Merit Badge." It is available free online. Astronauts, Nobel scientists, world-class athletes, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and even presidents have credited Scouting as being fundamental to their success in life. As importantly, millions of solid citizens and family men earning an honest living have had their character formed through scouting.
Any abuse is intolerable, but the Boy Scouts of America has an impressive record of proactively protecting the young people and families it serves.
John Keegan is the former Mayor of Peoria and currently serves as the volunteer BSA area president for the southwestern United States and Pacific basin. These comments reflect his personal opinions.