The Boy Scouts of America is an organization dedicated to building character, citizenship, and improving personal fitness. But the Boy Scouts of America is not immune to problems, one of which is child abuse, a problem that affects children of all ethnic and economic backgrounds. Studies show that one in three women and one in seven men are sexually molested or raped before the age of 21. By increasing societys awareness of the sexual abuse of children, we hope to prevent this from continuing to happen.
Kenneth Lanning, a behavioral expert with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, writes, "In all the many years that Ive talked to different groups about child abuse, if someone were to say to me, What is the most common response you get from an audience? I would have to say in all honesty the most common response is denial: the refusal to accept it, the refusal to perceive it, the refusal to process it. This is true of police officers; this is true of mental health professionals; this is true of citizens, parent groups, and everybody else. People refuse to accept this."
Because ours is a movement that impacts the lives of so many, we have both an opportunity and a responsibility: an opportunity to enhance the lives of our members and a responsibility to protect our young people from those who would endanger them.
Child abuse constitutes a challenge we must confront. We must be able to identify the leadership in our Scouting roles that will ensure that no child becomes the victim of abuse through negligence or a willful act while participating in the program of the Boy Scouts of America.
Kinds Of Child Abuse
In general, child abuse is defined as "any act toward a child that impairs physical and/or mental health immediately or over time." There are four kinds of child abuse:
Child neglect is defined as omission of the childs basic needs-physical, environmental, emotional, nutritional-that are necessary for a childs physical and emotional well-being.
Emotional abuse involves verbal or nonverbal violence toward a child that gives the child the message that he is "no good" and never will be. The caretaker is under stress, has little impulse control, and lashes out at the child.
Physical abuse involves physical violence toward a child where the parent or caretaker is not in control, in under stress, or has little control over impulses. Such maltreatment may be due to excessive corporal punishment. It could also occur in situations such as initiations or hazings. Often it is the transference of adult anger into physical aggression against the child.
Sexual abuse or sexual molestation involves any sexual act between a child and an adult or a young child and a significantly older child. Such acts may range from fondling to sexual intercourse. The child is powerless and not in a position to responsibly consent to sexual interactions.
Child Abusers Who Are They?
Research has shown that child abusers come from all walks of life, from all ethnic and economic groups. Based upon the case studies that have been made, many who abuse children do so out of ignorance of proper disciplinary techniques, thereby inflicting emotional or physical abuse. Sometimes a single event can trigger abuse, especially if it is the last in a series of frustrations.
There are some simple measures that we can take to guard against this type of abuse in the Scouting program.
First, unit leaders must exercise caution in administering discipline. Make sure disciplinary measures are constructive and encourage development of positive values and behavior. Corporal punishment, demeaning discipline, or verbal abuse are not permitted in the Scouting program.
Second, properly supervise youth leaders such as patrol leaders and denners. Having such responsibilities can develop important leadership skills, but guidance concerning appropriate discipline should be clearly given and at no time should any form of physical punishment be permitted to be used by youth leaders.
Third, Scouting programs should provide the opportunity for physical development on the part of the Scout. Physical abuse may also occur when demands are made that exceed the physical capability of the member. Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Explorers should have the opportunity to build their bodies and skills in preparation for undertaking physically demanding tasks and should never be encouraged to undertake a potentially hazardous task without appropriate safety measures and supervision.
Finally, remember that initiation rites and hazing are prohibited in Scouting. There is always the potential for abuse in this type of activity.
Avoiding Child Sexual Abuse in the Scouting Program
Unlike physical abuse of a child, which may be accidental and is nearly always situational, the sexual abuse of a child is usually a premeditated act. The term for a person who prefers children as sexual objects is "pedophile." Often the terms "child molester" and "pedophile" are used interchangeably. This type of abuser is of particular concern to youth-serving programs such as the Boy Scouts of America because child molesters seek out such programs to gain legitimate access to children.
Child molesters look like everybody else-they fit the general description of a large segment of the population. But they desire for illicit association with children sets them apart. Therefore, it is dangerous to assume that someone is not a threat just because hes a "nice guy" who is active in church, has a family, has a respectable job, and so on.
According to a report titled Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis published in 1986 by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Pedophiles are frequently the nice guy in the neighborhood who likes to entertain the children after school or take them on day or weekend trips." A pedophile knows how to talk to children, and how to listen to them. If fact, he can relate to children better than to adults. He seduces his victims by being attentive, giving them gifts, and sometimes treating them better than their own parents do. Sadly, he often targets children who are already victims of emotional or physical neglect. He uses his status as an adult and an authority figure to seduce and later to control his victim.
There are no simple solutions and pat answers to the complicated problem of child abuse. We can take some preventative measures to make the Scouting environment safer and to minimize the possibility of abuse.
The key to conducting a safe Scouting program is in the quality of the adult leadership. In our quest to provide the environment for the development of character, citizenship, and personal fitness, we must examine the aspects of the Scouting program that may provide an opportunity for children to be abused and minimize those opportunities.
David Finkelhor, noted researcher on child abuse, stat4s that there are four preconditions that must take place for child sexual abuse to occur:
There must be an offender with the motivation to sexually abuse.
The offender must overcome internal inhibitions against abusing
The offender must overcome external inhibitions against abusing.
The offender must overcome resistance by the child.
Three of the four preconditions refer to the adult offender. This is why we should make out best effort to obtain quality leadership. Your awareness is the first step toward saving some children from further emotional and physical pain. Dont be afraid to call attention to a questionable situation. You may make a mistake. But if you do, youve made an honest mistake in the interest of protecting a child or adolescent. Youve acted as an advocate for young people. We can go a long way toward eliminating the first precondition through careful leadership selection.
Obtaining Quality Leadership
For more than three-quarters of a century of existence of the Boy Scouts of America, our adult, volunteer leadership has been, and continues to be, perhaps the greatest asset of our movement. There have been many instances in which our high standards for adult registration have been challenged and withstood the challenge. Being a registered leader in the Boy Scouts of America is a privilege, not a right. We have a responsibility to help our chartered organizations fulfill their obligations to their units to recruit the quality of adult leadership in keeping with the best tradition of the Scouting program.
There is no sure way to detect a person who will be a child molester. Because these individuals seek legitimate contact with children, the Scouting program constitutes an attractive target to obtain access. It is important that the task of recruiting leadership be taken seriously and be done carefully. The more that is known about the person-his or her experience with children, and motivation for wanting to be a registered leader in the Scouting program-the better the decision will be. Often, there is a temptation to shortcut the established procedures for selecting leaders. Consider the risk and ask if our young people dont deserve a better effort.
The Boy Scouts of America provides excellent guidelines for chartered organizations to use in securing unit leaders. By following these steps and by checking references on past leadership experience our membership standards can be maintained. It is also important to know the registration status of every participant in a Scouting event in order for the membership standards to be enforced effectively.
Establishing External Obstacles to Abuse
The Boy Scouts of America has established program policies that serve the dual purposes of protecting the youth members as well as providing leaders protection from unfounded allegations of abuse. Some of these are summarized below:
Two adults (two-deep leadership) are required for all trips and outings for Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, Varsity Scout teams, and Venturing Crews. Additional leadership may be required based upon the size of the group, its skill level, anticipated environmental conditions, and overall degree of challenge.
One-on-one activities between adults and youth members are not permitted.
"Secret" organizations are not recognized by the Boy Scouts of America and are not permitted as part of our program.
Activities of organizations such as Order of the Arrow must meet the same standards of membership as Scout units.
Adult leadership needs to respect the privacy of youth members in situations such as changing into swimming suits or taking showers at camp and intrude only to the extent that health and safety requires. They also need to protect their own privacy in similar situations.
Encourage parental participation in unit activities-on the committee, as assistant leaders and accompanying the unit on trips and outings.
The district may need to develop creative methods to help units provide adequate supervision of activities-for example, development of a "buddy system" for merit badge counseling so that two or more Scouts may work together in earning the same merit badge, thereby avoiding one-on-one exposure. Units may need to coordinate joint camping trips to share leadership and meet the leadership requirements. There is no reason to believe that protecting our members-both youth and adult-will hamper the delivery of a quality Scouting program.
Creating Resistance to Abuse by the Child
After we do everything we can to ensure that the youth who are involved in Scouting have the best leadership possible, we need to provide them with information that helps them resist the advances of a molester. Interviews with molesters indicate that any show of resistance by a child is generally enough to discourage any further attempts with that child. The Boy Scouts of America continue to develop materials for members and their parents that accurately provides information enabling children and their families to protect themselves. In order for sexual abuse to be successful, secrecy must be maintained. For this reason, children need to be told that if anyone asks them to keep a secret or touches them in private areas of their bodies, they should "yell and tell."
How to Deal with Disclosure of Child Sexual Abuse
With educational programs and the growing awareness by children of sexual molestation, you may have a member of the Scouting program tell you that someone has molested him or her. If this happens, we want you to be prepared to help the child. Follow the guidelines below if a child indicates that he or she may have been the victim of abuse or exploitation:
Dont panic or overreact to the information disclosed by the child.
Dont criticize the child.
Respect the childs privacy. Take the child to a private place, away from other children but visible to another adult. Reassure the child that you are concerned about what happened to him and that you would like to get him some help. Do not promise to keep his secret, as it will be necessary to make a report to the Scout executive. The Scout executive will advise you of your responsibility to report to child protective services or to a law enforcement agency. You may want to ask the child if he has talked with his parents about it-if a parent is not the alleged abuser.
Encourage the Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Venturing Scout, or Explorer to tell the appropriate authorities. You may do this by making sure that the child feels that he or she is not to blame about what happened. Tell the child that no one should ask him or her to keep a special secret and that it is okay to talk about what happened with appropriate adults-that the child will not be blamed.
Anytime that you suspect child abuse in the Scouting program, you are required to inform the Scout executive immediately.
Each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories has different reporting requirements. Many of these jurisdictions require child care professionals to report suspected child abuse, an, in some states, reporting laws have been interpreted to require reporting by adults in volunteer child care positions. You should be aware of your responsibilities for reporting suspected child abuse. This information is available from your local council.
No state requires the person making the report to have proof that abuse has occurred prior to making the report, only that it is suspected. The intent of most state laws is clear-they expect suspected child abuse to be reported as soon as it is suspected. Failure to do so may result in civil or criminal penalties.
Concern is often expressed over the potential for criminal or civil liability if a report of abuse is made that subsequently is found to be unsubstantiated. All states provide immunity from liability to those who report suspected child abuse. The only requirement that states make is that a report be made in "good faith". Some states make the presumption that a reporter is making the report in good faith.
As a volunteer in the Scouting program, you are cautioned that you are not an investigator, and that the investigation of allegations of abuse is best left to the trained investigator. Action on reports of suspected child abuse will be facilitated by working through the Scout executive, who has established a working relationship with the administrators of the child protective services program and law enforcement agencies in the council.
The Boy Scouts of America will not tolerate any form of child abuse in our program and will take all necessary steps to remove any offenders from membership in the BSA.
More complete and comprehensive training in Youth Protection is available through your district. This two-hour course, Youth Protection Guidelines-BSA Volunteer Training, is designed for members of the district committee and commissioner staff and for Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Venturing, and Explorer leaders.