Outing Scouting

When I named this blog “Business is Personal”, I did so for a number of reasons – not the least of which is because I do take the work I do very personally. Obviously, it isn’t the only thing I take personally. My contributions to the young men in my community is another. I’m talking about Scouting.

Scouting, for some, is also a business. For me, it’s a way of giving back, plus it’s a way to be a little younger a 7 or 8 days a month and worst case, no matter how busy work is – I go camping one weekend a month 12 months of the year…”cuz I have to”:)

Right now, I’m more than a little bit annoyed at Scouting’s National organization. Let me explain why, but be forewarned, this will take a moment or two.

Every once in a while, a less than ideal story comes out in the media about the Boy Scouts. Usually it’s something a former Scout leader did that is ironic and thus newsworthy because well, Boy Scouts are known for being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent (those were the 12 points of the Scout Law).

When one of us isn’t all of those things and law enforcement gets involved, the natural thing for the media to mention is that the person is or was a Boy Scout leader. It’s natural because of the irony. Someone who is supposed to be squeaky clean apparently had a problem. It’s news.

Unfortunately, Scouting at a national level never seems to grasp how this stuff impacts the local leader. The local leader is the guy who once a week (usually more) spends time with his troop at a meeting, who once a month or more goes camping with the troop for the weekend, who uses his only week of vacation to go to Scout Summer Camp with his Scouts., and who either buys the poor kid a uniform or finds him a tent so that kid can participate like his friends.

Background – 2005 Jamboree

You may remember all the noise from the 2005 National Jamboree where some folks were electrocuted, then the heat took over and caused some problems during the President’s visit. National’s contracted PR spokesperson Gregg Shields hand waved most of it away by saying “only a few boys” had heat issues and that everything was under control. Yep, under damage control.
The reality is that about 4000 people required some level of treatment that day, and some were taken to the hospital. Hundreds were moved onto air conditioned buses to cool them off. We were extremely lucky no one got seriously hurt. As it was, we did have a leader who had a heart attack at Jambo that week, but it didn’t relate to the President’s visit. It might have just been his time.

Those 4000 people faced what they faced because no one at the upper echelons of Scouting had the balls to stand up and say “No, this isn’t safe”, or “We’re not going to do that, it’s a bad idea” (noting that some Scoutmasters did exactly that, contrary to “orders”). Instead, they allowed tens of thousands of boys to walk a couple of miles in full uniform, in 100+ heat and high humidity, and sit for hours waiting for the big black helicopter (that never came), and went along when the Secret Service make them empty out their water bottles before entering the area where the President would be on stage because one of the boys in uniform who paid $2500 or more to go to the Jambo and who belongs to a troop and is known by everyone who traveled with him just might have some of that top secret explosive water. And so on.

After all the weirdness of the 2005 Jambo, National spokesman Gregg Shields continued the hand waving. None of the National management or National-level volunteers from Irving ever had the cojones to step up to the mike and be “trustworthy, loyal..” etc.

The result: Back at home, Scout leaders all over the country had the pleasure of dealing with questions from community members and parents regarding the electrocutions, the heat issues and all of that. And of course, because we knew little more than what was on the news or floating through the rumor mill – we look like uninformed idiots.

Ok, so now we have the background in place.

Degenerates revealed
Last Tuesday night, CBS broadcast a story about information gathered during the discovery process of an abuse lawsuit where a couple of boys (now grown) had been abused by their “Scout leader”. I use quotes around this, because this man was never a Scout leader. He was a vile, disgusting creep who I hope will enjoy his many new friends in prison.

Media coverage:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/08/24/national/main3201572.shtml?source=search_story

http://rawstory.com/news/2007/CBS_5100_Boy_Scout_leaders_removed_0829.html

http://news.yahoo.com/s/po/20070829/co_po/boyscoutssecretdegeneratefilesrevealed

To summarize the story, there have been 5100 adults removed from Scouting since 1946. The rate of removal has gone up about 50% since 1991 and is presently somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 every other day (about 170 per year).

Am I proud of this? Not even close. However, one can look at this info several ways. Either a lot more creeps are volunteers than we think, or our ability to cross check someone’s background has gotten a lot better, or there are a lot more creeps in the world than there used to be and they are getting better at hiding themselves. My guess is that its probably a combination of all of those things.

While I don’t agree with a number of things that National (what we Scouters call the National Boy Scout office in Irving TX) says and does, I do agree with comments about the quality of the youth protection program. Of several programs Ive experienced that deal with youth – the training and process is the best Ive ever seen.

Background checks are required before you can become a leader. References are checked – or are supposed to be, 3 are required on adult leader applications. Youth Protection Training is required every year of every leader and is available online as well as in person at monthly leader meetings called “Roundtables”. (BSA’s online Youth Protection Training course, part of Scouting’s online learning center). Leaders are not allowed to be anywhere alone with a boy where they cannot be observed by someone else. 2 leaders (what we call “2 deep leadership”) are required for every meeting, event and campout. In the front of every Scout book from Cubs to Boy Scouts, the first part of the book includes a child abuse prevention chapter that the boy is supposed to go over with their parents. There is substantial coverage and resources regarding Youth Protection on the Scouting.org website (this link breaks outside of the Scouting.org frame for clarity purposes, it is readily accessible from several places at Scouting.org). Oh and then there is the sometimes-reviled (“no paintball” is a lot of the source of this), but usually adhered-to Guide to Safe Scouting.

BUT, none of that keeps people from doing something if they wanted to badly enough – other than others having their eyes open and taking action. Nothing is perfect.

As an example of imperfect, none is perhaps better than the case of Douglas Smith, the former National BSA guy who was in charge of Scouting’s child abuse prevention program. He was caught and convicted of trafficking child porn on the internet back in 2005. Can’t get much more ironic than that:(

“It’s a really small percentage”
The CBS story didn’t appear to address National about how many adult creeps are caught in the net before they get a chance to be part of a troop – and National didn’t bother to volunteer that info. I suspect the lawyers are part of that zip-the-lips thing.

Neither Katie nor National bothered to note that at as of 2005, there are roughly 544 thousand volunteers in the Boy Scout portion of the Scouting program (Cub Scout details). Some have been there for 40 years. Some come and go in a few years, though that is more common of the Cub Scout program.

What really annoys me about it as a leader is that National just says “well, its a really small percentage” and then goes into no comment mode, leaving people like me to take the grief on the street – not to mention what it does to the program itself. They just fire off a sound bite, say no comment to anything else and leave Scouting’s enemies to tell their story.

SIDEBAR: That’s a marketing mistake of the highest order. NEVER let someone else tell your story first, or in a vacuum, especially an enemy/competitor (see, I knew I’d sneak some business in there).

While it may be a really small percentage, and in fact, an order of magnitude smaller than the percentage of the general public

Back to the TV piece for a moment: It closed with a shot of one of the victims saying that Scouting is not a safe place for your kids. Ok, I understand why he feels that way – his experience told him that. Nothing I can say or do will make him feel better, and in fact, it bothers me deeply to wonder how many others are in his shoes.

That said, I think he is wrong. I think Scouting is markedly safer than your town as a whole. Did National bother to say that, or back it up? Of course not.

Let me explain why I think Scouting is safer than your town. It’s common sense, but I’ll go over it anyway.

If all 5100 abusers over that 60 year period in part of THIS YEAR’s Scouting volunteer list, that would be .9% of the list. This article said that the 5100 abusers are spread out over SIXTY years. 5100/60 is 85. Assuming that we’ve had 500,000 volunteers on average over the 60 years means that perhaps .017% of Scout volunteers are abusers. This math is a stretch, but with the info I have, it’s all I have so bear with me.

Finally, while noting that .017%, I don’t mean to minimize their crimes, I calculated that number to prepare you for the next one.

As of 2005, U.S. law enforcement statistics reported that over 551,000 reported sex offenders were being monitored by “the system”. “Reported” means convicted. Doesn’t even count the ones from unreported events. The U.S. population just recently went over 300 million. 551,000 is .18% of 300,000,000.

.18% vs .017% (notice the extra zero in there – an order of magnitude)

So roughly .18% of people in the U.S. (here legally, I guess) are REGISTERED sex offenders. Caught and convicted. Doesn’t count anyone else – which is the truly scary part. That’s a big number. Yesterday, I read that the number is now 650,000 and increasing by 25000 every year, but I couldn’t find a law enforcement site to back that up.

.18% doesn’t feel like a real number, so let me give you another way to get a feel for this. If you google “registered sex offender”, you will be presented with plenty of web pages that will show you how many are in your town, where they live, what they did and in many cases – what they look like. Scary stuff.

The attorneys who read this might be quick to say that they have served their time, repaid their debt to society and to leave them alone. They might also say that research shows that less than 7% of them abuse someone else after serving their time. Of course, we only hear about the problem cases, where the guy gets out and goes on a killing spree or whatever. I’m not suggesting that you run these people out of town, but I will note that you aren’t likely to hire a convicted extortionist to do accounting for your business. So no matter what, it’s a scary thing.

National took a different approach. They simply said “well, its a really small percentage” and left it at that. That might make someone feel better, unless you’re one of the kids abused by someone in that “really small percentage” – because no matter how much you can shine it up with percentages, it matters to that one kid, and that’s what really matters. Every Scout matters.

What I’d like to see
What would I like to see from National? I’d like them to actually act like real people, not Enron-esque bureaucrats whose attorneys and accountants control their every word and act.

I know there are good people there. Friends of mine who I trust implicitly know some of them personally, and have for decades. It’s time the real Scouters took over, emptied the trash and turned things around. As a friend from Spokane says, “Scoutmasters, take back your turf.”

It may not be 1950 or 1960 anymore, but the skills, behaviors, abilities and confidence that Scouting teaches our youth are more relevant today to our kids than ever before.

2 thoughts on “Outing Scouting”

  1. Thanks, Mark, for some insightful comments.

    It would be great to see BSA National approaching these matters – and the public- in a manner more like Johnson and Johnson during the Tylenol tampering case, rather than like Enron or the Nixon White House.

    Time and time again, experience shows that stepping up with the facts, taking immediate corrective action where needed, and trusting people to have good judgment works!

    Regards…………………Brad

  2. Thanks Brad. It just seems so obvious that an organization whose “law” starts with trustworthy, loyal… should understand that they need to do things differently – better.

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