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Robert A. Woodke: Scouts work to ensure safety of boys in program

The AP story on the front page of the Bemidji Pioneer about the Boy Scouts of America’s Ineligible Volunteer files (Oct. 19) did not tell the whole story.

First, the files were kept because the alleged perpetrators were not allowed to be adult Scout volunteers and were part of the BSA’s efforts to keep the boys safe. In most instances, the alleged perpetrator was denied continued membership in the Scouting movement. This was true whether or not they were convicted of the accusation.

Second, today, no adult Scout volunteer can have contact with any Scout unless they have first been through the youth protection training of the Boy Scouts of America. This training has been referred to as the “gold standard” for ensuring the safety of youth in the Boy Scout program. Included in the youth protection policies of the BSA is the requirement that no adult have contact with any Scout unless another adult leader is present. This policy applies to all adult Scout volunteers.

Today, BSA youth protection training and policies are utilized by other organizations such as Rotary to accomplish their own youth protection efforts. Additionally the training must be repeated by each adult volunteer every other year to ensure that all adult Scout volunteers are up to date on the latest standards and best practices to ensure the safety of the boys.

Reading the AP story would lead one to believe that the Boy Scouts of America organization was trying to cover up instances of child abuse. That was not the case. The files contain information about innocent victims and their families, those people are entitled to their privacy and it was in that vein that Scouting was keeping the files confidential. Additionally, the files also include situations where there were unsubstantiated allegations and where abuse may or may not have happened. Disclosure of those incidents could be injurious to an innocent person, as well as embarrassing to the alleged victim.

The Ineligible Volunteer files were an effort by the adult Scout Volunteers across the nation to weed out those who posed a threat to boys and keep them from being in the Scout organization. For the most part the system was successful in that effort, but it was not without flaws. The files show that families, news media and local authorities were, in most instances, aware of the allegations. This is not consistent with the story’s indication of an alleged cover-up. 

Scouting cannot control the governmental decision to prosecute or not prosecute. That decision is made by local prosecutors in conjunction with law enforcement.  The story refers to events that happened between 53 years ago and 27 years ago. That was a different time in America and society dealt differently with these events than we would today. Interestingly, in 1980 there were about 1.1 million adult Scout volunteers in our nation but only 25 cases of potential abuse were reported to the national BSA headquarters. In each instance the alleged perpetrator was removed from Scouting. The removal happened whether the allegations were proven or not.

No child should be a victim of abuse. The BSA today and throughout its history has worked to ensure the safety of the boys in the program. Were the efforts flawless? Certainly not. Have we learned from past mistakes? Of that there can be no doubt. There is a continuing effort to improve the youth protection training, standards and policies of the Boy Scouts of America.

Robert A. Woodke of Bemidji is a member of the Executive Board of the Voyageurs Area Council of Boy Scouts and serves as the local Boy Scout Roundtable commissioner.