When the subject of child molesters comes to mind, it often is accompanied by the image of the beady-eyed man in a trench coat lurking in the bushes to snatch kids as they pass by.
Along with that traditional stereotype, there is the more modern one of a pedophile crouched in the dark at a computer screen seeking to pray on unsuspecting children via the Internet.
As big a problem as these scumbags can be and have been, there is at least a kind of comfort in assuming that horrible acts of sexual molestation against children are being perpetrated by the fringe elements of society. You know, the crazies who live in the shadows. Certainly these are not “normal” people — but the radical elements among us who are thankfully few and far between, we fool ourselves into thinking.
It is much harder to accept the fact, however, that molesters also can be people we have come to know and trust: teachers, coaches, Sunday school teachers, counselors and, according to a new report, Boy Scout leaders.
The “perversion files” released Thursday had been kept secret for years, but were unveiled by order of the Oregon Supreme Court, and detail case after case of sexual predators being allowed to go free to protect scouting’s supposedly good name.
Haven’t we heard this before?
First, it was the leadership of the Catholic church which refused to excommunicate priests who had used their positions of trust to sexually victimize those who sought counsel. Priests simply were assigned to new parishes where their misdeeds were allowed to continue. Again, the motivation was protecting the good name of the church.
When the horrendous acts of former Penn State University assistant coach Jerry Sandusky came to light, the biggest concern among school officials was not the welfare of the boys he molested, but how do we protect the good name of our institution and its football program.
Now comes the scathing report on Boy Scouts of America. Its 14,500 pages of files show that time after time, decade after decade, not only scouting leaders but prosecutors, police chiefs, pastors and local Boy Scout leaders nationwide quietly covered for scoutmasters and others accused of molesting children.
While 14,500 pages sounds like a lot, the point needs to be emphasized that the newly revealed allegations represent misdeeds by only a small percentage of scout leaders. By and large, these are good folks who volunteer their time to fulfill scouting’s mission of helping boys become the best people they can.
The same is true for the vast majority of teachers, coaches and others who are dedicated professionals wanting the best for the kids in their charge.
However, we also must accept the sad reality that there are some people who assume the roles of scoutmasters or other positions just to place themselves in close proximity to would-be victims. The long list of crimes where this has occurred can’t be ignored.
Of course, Boy Scouts of America has been a wonderful organization that has done much to benefit youths and society in general.
I can hearken back to my own experiences with scouting in Patrick County, Va., where I grew up, and was a Cub as well as Boy Scout. The love I have for the Great Outdoors is a direct result of the camping trips and hikes during my youth. Along with skills such as how to build a campfire or read a compass, we learned to deal with adversity when rainstorms struck our campsite or we got lost in the woods.
Here in Mount Airy, we have been blessed by the involvement of many fine scout leaders over the years who have done much to help boys — especially those from broken homes lacking father figures or positive role models. In 30 years in the news business, I can’t recall any case coming to light of molestation involving local scout leaders.
But on a national scale, that unfortunately hasn’t been the case, as the new “perversion files” suggest. Adding to the fact that innocent boys were victimized in the first place, the Boy Scout hierarchy waged legal battles for years to prevent a full disclosure of the files. Just like what happened with the Catholic leadership and that at Penn State.
The really sad part of all this is many boys have had their lives ruined by people they trusted and an organization which admittedly “fell short of protecting the youth,” in the words of Boy Scouts of America President Wayne Perry.
It’s interesting that we’re always hearing how our children are the future and our most important resource, whose welfare should rise above all else.
But then another report will come out showing how much we have let them down.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.