Massive PR Fail: Boy Scouts Hid Reports of Child Abuse

Looks like the Boy Scouts of America has a huge PR headache on its hands thanks to the investigative powers of the Los Angeles Times. While the group remains committed to excluding gay men from its ranks, its doesn’t seem to know how to deal with accused child molesters. We would advise leaders to turn to the Catholic Church for advice on what not to do over the coming weeks and months, but after reading the Times report we feel like they’ve already got that covered.

The Times accessed files stretching from the 70’s to the 90’s and uncovered a very disturbing trend in which the BSA’s PR interests clearly took precedence over its responsibility for the kids in its care. Hundreds of child abuse accusations were shelved, ignored or covered up. The story, first uncovered in August, will only get worse.

In 500 cases, officials learned of alleged abuses from staffers, parents, anonymous tipsters or the boys themselves before they were relayed to law enforcement authorities. 400 of these cases were never reported at all—and members of the Boy Scouts of America “actively sought to conceal the alleged abuse or allowed the suspects to hide it” in at least 100 of them. Why? To “protect the reputation of the Scouts”, of course. That didn’t work so well, though: At least 50 men were expelled for alleged abuse only to return to scouting and face further charges of improper sexual activity.

This is very bad–to say the least. So how did it happen?

The group’s official response to the story reads: “We have always cooperated fully with any request from law enforcement and today require our members to report even suspicion of abuse directly to their local authorities.” This requirement, unfortunately, only came about in 2010 – and the paper trail indicates that the group broke state laws in the past by failing to report abuse claims. In one case, a group leader refused to ex-communicate a former scout leader despite the fact that he was also a convicted child molester because he had done “so much for the camp and is a nice guy.” Another leader who confessed to abuse charges was given a six-week grace period to resign “in a graceful manner.”

This man should be in jail; there’s no way around it. And the Boy Scouts of America owes the American public an explanation.

PR pros: What do these revelations mean for the Boy Scouts? What can the organization do, moving forward, to minimize the damage? We think leaders should commit themselves to a policy of 110% transparency regarding all past and future accusations, but based on their past behavior we’re not too optimistic.