BSA officials should be replaced

by Jim Dowell

Two years ago, Portland, Ore. attorney Kelly Clark exposed the Boy Scouts of America for allowing, enabling, and covering up sexual abuse by scoutmasters and volunteers. Clark was representing a client who had been victimized twice — once by a scout leader, and again by the BSA who swept his complaint under the rug.

As a result of the litigation, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered BSA to release their so-called “perversion files”, containing more than 14,500 documents which detailed complaints of sexual assault dating from 1959 to 1985.

As the files reveal, time and again BSA officials failed to report the assaults to police and, even worse, systematically guaranteed the offenders that the organization wouldn’t go public if the sickos would just resign and move on. That policy simply enabled sexual predators to relocate and re-offend somewhere else. In that regard, what the BSA did was far worse than the crimes of Penn State officials. At PSU, the cover-up allowed one abuser, Jerry Sandusky, to get away. But BSA allowed thousands of Jerry Sanduskys to escape. In both cases, the enablers thought more of protecting the image of their respective institutions than they did of protecting victims.

The Boy Scout scandal also hit close to home. The “perversion files” included reports on seven men from the Triad who had abused young scouts. Greensboro News & Record reporter Amanda Lehmert compiled a detailed list of those abuses, which began in 1967 when a teacher at Pleasant Garden elementary school was accused of “crimes against nature” while serving as a BSA advisor.

In 1972, scoutmaster Roy Case of Summerfield made sexual advances to a boy scout, but the incident was hidden away in a confidential file by officials at the General Greene Council. Later, Case confessed to sexually abusing a number of boys over a 30 year period. Other cases involved a Cherokee Council scoutmaster from Reidsville, an Explorer volunteer who worked for Burlington Industries, a Winston-Salem scoutmaster, a Lexington troop leader and a scoutmaster from High Point. In each case, BSA officials kept the complaints quiet. And that brings me to the remedy for these horrendous crimes.

When a college athletic program is proved to have done something severely unethical, such as widespread academic cheating by players, cash paid to players or, as in the case of Penn State, covering up sexual assaults by an employee, then the NCAA punishes the offending university. Southern Methodist University, for example, was once given the so-called “death penalty,” which effectively shut down its football program for a year. Other schools have been prohibited from going to bowl games. And at Penn State, coach Joe Paterno was fired for not reporting sexual assaults to the police, then had 111 of his victories vacated from the record books. That’s why an appropriate punishment should be meted out for the Boy Scouts of America organization.

Proponents of scouting say that the sexual abuses took place in the past, and that the overwhelming majority of scout leaders today would never do anything  to harm a boy. Moreover, BSA has implemented “Youth Protection Procedures,” ostensibly to safeguard against the hiring of sexual predators. All that’s true. But what Steve Wilburn said is also true. Wilburn, who serves as executive director of the Old Hickory Council told the N&R that, “One instance of child abuse is too many.” In like manner, one instance of a cover-up is one too many, and BSA officials are guilty of thousands of cover-ups which continue to bring pain and suffering to victims decades later.

Current BSA officials haven’t protected any sexual predators on their watch (that we know of), but they still had to be compelled by the Supreme Court to make their “perversion files” public, which they finally did last week. That’s why prosecutors and the courts should step in and order that all BSA activities emanating from the national office be suspended for one year and all employees there be removed until such time as a court-approved management team can be put in place, with input from the national executive board.

The BSA website says that their organization “provides a program for young people that builds character, and trains them in the responsibility of participating citizenship…” But character and responsible citizenship is exactly what is lacking at BSA headquarters, and has been for at least six decades. It’s time for BSA to be trustworthy and demonstrate proactive leadership. Millions of scouts deserve no less.

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11am on WMYV (cable channel 15).