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Scandal Creates Tough Questions for Former Scouts

What role should the organization play in your and your children's future in wake of the sexual abuse scandal?

Like many media organizations across the country, a trove of documents detailing cases of sexual abuse of children that were never reported to police.

The scandal hits home for many here in St. Louis, with cases of abuse reported in Hazelwood, Kirkwood and possibly more communities in the area. However, it's also a story that impacts a broader section of Americans, namely all those who grew up participating in scouting, like myself. 

I was involved with the Boy Scouts as early as first grade, enrolling as a Cub Scout, a kind of junior scouting level that lasts until you hit sixth grade and are officially old enough to become a scout. I stayed in the organization until I graduated high school and earned scouting's highest honor by becoming an Eagle Scout.

Unfortunately, this news is the second time an institution from my childhood has been rocked by such a scandal. In addition to spending many years as a scout, I also went to Catholic school and regularly attended church with my family.

On the whole, these organizations provided me with valuable experiences that have shaped me as an adult. Scouting ensured that a geeky kid attached to his Sega spent time connecting with nature. The church gave my family and its history a sense of tradition and additional meaning.

As such, these stories inevitable raise certain questions, but there is one that stands out as far more difficult than the rest, I think, for most former scouts. I'm not a father, and not planning to be in the near future, but before this scandal I had always assumed that I would encourage any son I had to join the Boy Scouts. After all, my own father frequently accompanied us on camping trips, ferrying groups of rowdy fifth-graders to and fro and never complaining about it.

The scandal and the way it has been handled has now cast that assumption into doubt. The Boy Scouts barring of gays from joining its ranks and its intolerance for secular world views are similar organizational values that I also find deplorable.

So, do I support the Boys Scouts for the memories and experiences it provided me, or do I condemn the organization for its failures to maintain its own high standards? Does the harm perpetuated by a few outweigh the good done by many?

There are no easy answers here, of course, and there likely never will be. A knee-jerk reaction to universally condemn the Boy Scouts as having nothing of value to offer or to attempt to ignore its failures are both wrongheaded, surely, but what can you say beyond that?

My hope is the impact of this scandal is not the unraveling of the Boy Scouts, but that it instead serves as a catalyst for reform. That way, my involvement in the organization, and in any future role it might play in my life, will be something of which I can be proud.

How has the Boy Scouts of America and the sexual abuse scandal impacted you? Would you still encourage your own children to join?

Denise Bertacchi October 26, 2012 at 02:55 PM
I wouldn't let this scandal effect your decision to enroll future children in scouts. These files go back before computer records, before mandatory reporting to law enforcement, before two deep leadership (a sort of buddy system for the leaders). My 13 year old is in scouts and next year I'm signing up my little guy for Cubs. I will no doubt be a Tiger Leader. And that's the important part. You can't just dump your kids into a group you don't know. It's important for parents to take part in scouts too, to get to know the other adults, the other kids and see if the group is a good fit. A lot of these files show predators looking for easy marks--kids without a strong dad at home, kids needing attention. AND a lot of these files (I've read a few) were made because somebody in the Pack or Troop found a man with a record trying to get into Scouts and kicked him out before he could harm a scout. There's a lot of danger in the world, there always has. Our 24-hour media cycle has just made us more aware. If you take everything you read in the media to heart you will bubblewrap your child and keep him locked in the basement for his own protection. But that's not right either.

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