“The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody had decided not to see.” –Ayn Rand
I am not an Ayn Rand fan but this morning I keep thinking about her quote. It is appropriate for today’s news as we take a look at sexual abuse that was covered up for years. Last week, by court order, the Boy Scouts of America released their decades’ worth of secret “perversion files” that contained reports of thousands of instances of child sexual abuse by adults associated with the Boy Scouts. These files were the Boy Scouts of America’s attempt to handle the problem of sexual abuse within the organization, and the majority of the cases were never reported to the police. This was a mistake, as we now know that many perpetrators were allowed to leave town quietly and go on to abuse many more victims.
There is so much to say about this case, but what is on my mind right now is a strong feeling that we are finally on the verge of a great awakening about the reality of sexual abuse, where our eyes will finally be opened to this problem that has festered under a cover of secrecy for far too long. I think of the men and women all over the country who are profoundly affected by the Boy Scout revelations, either because they were directly connected to a Boy Scout case, or because they have experienced other instances of abuse in their lives. This news can trigger powerful reactions. With thousands of reports issued from the Scout files, that is like learning about nearly 5,000 potential Jerry Sanduskys all at once.
With the lid being blown off abuse in the Catholic Church, at Penn State football, and now the Boy Scouts, I believe we are reaching a tipping point of awareness and understanding. These revelations are painful but they are necessary. We need to do right by our kids and take an honest and hard look at the abuse suffered by so many for far too long. The files released by the Boy Scouts go back to 1947. Most of the boys reported to be abused are now grown men. About one in six children are sexually abused; that means that one in six men and women are adult survivors of childhood abuse. The number of abuse survivors in the United States is estimated to be 39 million people, which is more than the population of California. Each of us interacts with many abuse survivors as we go about our daily business, we just don’t know it. If abuse appeared more like a disease with visible symptoms, it would be considered a major public health problem.
As we can see from the responses of men who were interviewed about their long-ago abuse by Boy Scout leaders, the pain of that abuse may get buried, sometimes held in deep secrecy, but the pain never goes away. And the cost of burying the pain can be steep–abuse can lead to drug and alcohol abuse and other unhealthy coping mechanisms. Even though the abuse is not the young victim’s fault, secret shame is incredibly corrosive. These young people were betrayed by their respected leaders, powerful people who were on a pedestal, whether the abuser was a priest, a football coach, a Boy Scout leader, or in other cases a family member, friend, caregiver or teacher.
Here is an excerpt from an Los Angeles Times interview with a man who was abused more than three decades ago. His scout leader was accused of molesting five boys, repeatedly. Even though detailed accusations were made by the boys in 1976, the Boy Scouts did not report the abuse to the police. Instead, the organization allowed the accused abuser to resign quietly and even thanked him for his service and said they accepted his resignation with “extreme regret.”
In a recent interview, Maxwell’s retelling of an abuse incident was nearly identical to the statement he’d written 36 years ago — and hadn’t seen since. He also had a vivid recollection of Beatty.
“I can still see his face like it was yesterday,” he said. Like Kunkel, Maxwell rarely talked about what happened once [the abuser] Beatty was gone. “I wasn’t going to let something like that hold me down,” he said.
After high school he attended photography school in Philadelphia, then moved to New York City and worked as a bartender until about 10 years ago. He is retired now, with a heart condition, and spends part of the year in a camper on the Delaware shore.
He had coped well with his memories, Maxwell said, until the child sex abuse scandal involving a former assistant football coach at Penn State broke last year.
“With this Jerry Sandusky thing, all of it just came flooding back — terribly, actually,” he said.
His own childhood experience affected his ability to trust people, and for that he blames his scoutmaster. Looking back, Beatty “should have been led out in handcuffs,” he said.
“All of us boys — two of them’s dead now — but all of us were scarred, and scarred for life by that. I’m sorry, but that’s not something a 13-year-old boy puts out of his mind,” he said. “And he got away with that.”
What will be the reckoning that our society needs to take from here on out, to move forward?
The cases of the Catholic Church, Penn State football, and the Boy Scouts are not unique but they are incredibly notable. The Catholic Church had abusers who were operating with no less than the authority of God. Penn State shows how abuse can happen in a sports environment, perpetrated by someone who used his position as a powerful coach and philanthropist to access vulnerable kids–I believe the Penn State case opened a lot of people’s eyes who had not followed abuse up to this point. And the Boy Scouts, like the Catholic Church and Penn State, are accused of covering up abuse: failing to protect boys by letting perpetrators leave town, not reporting cases to the police, and even allowing accused molesters back into the organization.
There is much to be sad and shocked about. One point that I heard made on a Talk of the Nation conversation with Los Angeles Times investigative reporter Jason Felch last week was that the Boy Scouts missed an opportunity to be act as a responsible leader of cultural change in stopping abuse:
Neal Conan: As you pointed out in your reporting, other experts have said, if we’d had access to this material – this is a treasure trove of allegations of sexual abuse – we could have discovered patterns, we could have figured things out long before we did; this is something that would have been incredibly useful.
Jason Felch: Yeah, the experts we spoke to said that really, awareness about this type of molestation – which they refer to as “acquaintance molestation” – really came together in the expert community, and in the general public, in the 1980s. The Boy Scouts have been keeping these files since the 1900s – the early 1900s. And so some believe that had this – these files been made available publicly to experts, that they might have understood the way these predators operate – better.
When we analyzed the files, we found very clear evidence of grooming behavior – throughout the files. Grooming behavior is the kind of seduction process that child molesters use while recruiting, if you will, their young victims. They allow them to break the rules; they allow them to drive their cars, to drink alcohol, to watch pornography together. This escalates into – you know, skinny-dipping and sharing tents together, and that kind of contact; and ultimately, cumulates in abuse. What the grooming process does, experts say, is make sure that when abuse does occur, the boys have been compromised, in a way; and have basically been recruited, and made to feel like accomplices. And that really increases the likelihood that they will not report abuse, when it happens. That’s one of the reasons why this is such an under-reported crime.
They Boy Scouts of America made a tragic mistake by trying to handle the accusations on their own, and worrying more about protecting the reputation of the organization, rather than the boys they were supposed to be serving with character education.
We need to learn from these mistakes and change the way our society approaches abuse. I believe that when it comes to preventing child sexual abuse, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. The truth is that abuse can happen within any organization, and organizations serving children must be vigilant with screening, awareness, and action. Every member of an organization, whether a leader, employee, member, or client, needs to be empowered to make reports that are taken seriously and acted on appropriately. Kids need appropriate skills to protect themselves: giving them the power to stop abuse in its tracks whenever possible, and reporting problems to trusted adults who will help them. Kidpower training provides those skills to people of all ages and abilities.
We need to go back to the basic Kidpower principles of: Put Safety First. The safety of a child is more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience or offense. These principles are easy to say, but can be hard to live by. But as I have said many times, if you live by these principles they will change your life. If organizations can live by these principles and back them up with serious, effective policies, we we be on a path to truly Doing Right by Our Kids.
These are still early days and the path forward is not easy. But walking that path together is what the Doing Right by Our Kids project is all about. We are working hard to provide information and resources that can help individuals and organizations work effectively to end child abuse; and this week we will be researching resources to help reach out to adult survivors of sexual abuse who may feel upset and triggered by the news about the Boy Scouts.
The Los Angeles Times has done an amazing amount of reporting on the Boy Scouts case, and in addition a series of articles, their reporting includes a searchable database of almost on nearly 5,000 existing records of cases opened by the Scouts into molestation allegations since 1947.
Kidpower.org many free safety resources and information about Kidpower skills and training.
Schedule an interview: Dr. Amy Tiemann is a frequent guest expert on parenting websites, national radio tours, magazines from Redbook to Glamour, and TV including ABC News, the CBS Early Show, and NBC’s Today Show. To schedule an interview, please contact her publicist Jill Dykes, email@example.com or 919-749-8488