Rules in place now intended to make Scouting safer, leader says

Sunday, October 21, 2012 | 1:16 p.m. CDT; updated 3:35 p.m. CDT, Sunday, October 21, 2012

COLUMBIA — Prominent at the top right of The Boy Scouts of America's home page are the words "Youth Protection," and the link takes the user to a detailed page of other links and information about the organization's rules for parents and leaders who interact with Scouts. 

The policies and procedures described there weren't always part of Scouting rules.

Doug Callahan,  Scout executive for the Great Rivers Council, which encompasses 33 counties in central and northeast Missouri — including Boone County — said the policies have come about in the last 20-plus years. Callahan has been involved with the Scouts for 45 years — including his years as a Scout — and has worked for them for more than 30 years. The Boy Scouts developed the policies because society and the Scouts became more aware of child abuse, he said.

He denied that the policies came about in response to the abuse that the Scouts' organization knew was going on, as has been revealed by the release of files last week. They have been keeping such files since 1919, he said.

The Oregon Supreme Court ordered the Boy Scouts on Thursday to release what have become known as the "perversion files." The Boy Scouts kept the files — 14,500 pages documenting suspected and proven cases of sexual abuse, letters from victims and their families, and news clippings about cases — at the organization's headquarters in Texas. All victims' names were removed from the files. The most recently released files contain information about incidents from 1959 to 1985 and show 46 cases in Missouri.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times created a database of more than 5,000 men and women expelled from the Scouts between 1947 and 2005 for suspected sexual abuse from information the newspaper received from an attorney who has worked with many abuse victims. 

From that database, the Missourian created a database that shows 178 cases in Missouri, including two from Columbia. The database shows when the Boy Scouts made the file, not necessarily when the incident occurred.

Both Columbia cases are dated 1993. The incidents happened in different troops and involved two different alleged abusers. Some cases in the database include names of perpetrators, while others only include an ID number. The names of offenders had been removed in cases where ID numbers were given.

One of the two individuals in Columbia had one identifiable offense in Missouri, while the other had at least three. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Boy Scouts purged an unknown number of files from the 1970s to 1990s. More files have been created since 2005, but that information has not been made public. 

Callahan said the authorities were aware of the majority of the cases. The organization realized it made a mistake by not pursuing criminal charges against all the offenders.

"The Boy Scouts made mistakes and have apologized for that," he said. "Our first concern is the victim."

But the investigation by the Los Angeles Times shows that 80 percent of alleged incidents when Scouts were the first to know were never reported to police. 

But Callahan said he found that number hard to believe and that the information provided by the national office contradicted that finding. 

Callahan said it's unfortunate that the files are being seen as an attempt to protect abusers. "The way they are being portrayed is a little disappointing because that was not the purpose of them," he said.

Callahan said their purpose was to make sure certain people were removed from Scouting and not let back in, so a volunteer "couldn't go from troop to troop and try to get involved."

However, the database shows offenders were able to do just that. Even after a previous offense, alleged abusers were able to work with other troops because files weren't checked and errors were made in creating records. Sometimes, alleged abusers provided false information, according to the Los Angeles Times.  

None of the Scout leaders contacted in Columbia wanted to comment on the release of the files.

But Callahan said the Scouting organization strives to continually evaluate the rules and procedures governing adult Scout leaders' interactions with Scouts and revise them when necessary.

"We keep evaluating and keep strengthening them as we come across new ways to protect our youth members," he said.

Now, troop leaders and volunteers must go through training every two years,and unit committee members are instructed to check background information provided on the application by adults. 

Among some of Scouting's current policies: 

  • Two adults must be present during all Scout activities.  
  • One-on-one interaction between a Scout and a leader is not allowed. 
  • Adults must sleep in separate tents from Scouts on camping trips.
  • Anyone involved in Scouting must report any suspected or proven abuse or neglect to authorities. 

Wayne Perry, national president of Boy Scouts of America, said in a release: "There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong. Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families." 

The Associated Press contributed to this article. 

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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