I’ve just returned from six days and five nights at Bartle Scout Reservation in Osceola, Mo., where daytime highs reached 105 degrees.
Before you write me off as crazy, let me explain one of the reasons I volunteered: To make sure my son’s troop had enough adults to maintain Scouting’s rule of two-deep leadership. Trust me, I can’t teach the boys to tie knots or show them how to rappel down a cliff, but I can participate in practices designed to protect boys against sexual predators.
The rule of two-deep leadership is just one part of the efforts of Boy Scouts of America to prevent sexual abuse among its ranks. I’m proud of the BSA’s program, especially after skimming through the 267-page report issued Thursday morning by the law firm of former FBI director Louis Freeh on the independent investigation of sexual abuse by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State.
That report can be summed up with this sentence: “The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.”
Adults failed. Specifically, according to the report, four adults in powerful positions failed to protect boys against a pedophile who raped them. (And don’t get me started on what Sandusky’s wife may, or may not, have known.)
I know the other adults in my son’s troop. I cannot imagine any of them would do a thing to harm one of our boys. But they, and I, follow the BSA rules, even when it’s a hassle -- such as having to have two adults wake up in the middle of the night to administer eye drops when a Scout has pink eye, as several troop members had two years ago. I earned the gratitude of several parents when I volunteered to give my son his drops at 1 a.m. (it’s okay for a parent to be alone with her own son).
“Two-deep,” a phrase we throw around when discussing activities in the troop, simply means that two adult leaders, or one leader and one parent or other adult over age 21, are present with any group of Scouts – or even a single Scout.
You never, ever have one-on-one contact between an adult and a Scout. And you generally want four adults on any outing, such as the traditional five-mile hike from Bartle to Iconium, home of Scott’s General Store and peach Nehi floats. What if a Scout is injured? Or lags behind? You need to have two adults with him, and two to stay with the rest of the troop. (This rule protects adults as well from false accusations.)
Two-deep leadership became a rule in 1987 after it was first mentioned in The Scoutmaster Handbook in 1981.
Since 2008, every registered adult leader has had to undergo a background criminal check, and since 2010, every adult who participates in any Scout activity must complete online Youth Protection Training every two years. Sure, any pedophile would know to give the right answers. The training’s true usefulness lies in educating the rest of us about what constitutes abuse and how to report it.
It’s now mandatory in BSA to report any suspected abuse; that’s been one of the requirements instituted by BSA’s Youth Protection Director Michael Johnson, hired in 2010.
The BSA also offers handouts and videos for parents and Scouts as well, teaching them the three R’s: Recognize, Resist and Report.
In fact, child-protection experts around the country gave the BSA high marks for its anti-abuse efforts in an Associated Press story earlier this year.
The news of the “ineligible volunteer” or “perversion” files, kept since the early days of Scouting of persons deemed unfit to serve as leaders, has not received such a positive response, however, and the Oregon Supreme Court last month ordered the files be made public once the names of victims have been removed.
Those files came to light after the BSA lost an $18.5 million lawsuit in 2010 when an Oregon man received the award for being molested by an assistant Scoutmaster in the 1980s.
“We were trying to send a message,” one juror is reported as saying about the high amount of the award.
Well, I think the BSA heard the message.
Now the question is: Will Penn State?
Diana Reese is a freelance writer in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @dianareese.