The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) last week ordered all of its volunteers to go through training about sex abuse, after years of rejecting suggestions that it do so.
The reversal comes weeks after a jury ordered the BSA to pay $18.5 million in punitive damages because of how it has handled sex abuse in its ranks – a case that drew national attention to allegations that the BSA has not done enough to stop molesters.
Aside from affecting up to 1 million Scout volunteers, the new policy shows how one of the nation’s largest youth-serving organizations gradually has had to ask more of the volunteers who run its program, despite worries that doing so would dissuade some people from working with the Scouts.
Under the new policy, all registered BSA volunteers must go through its Youth Protection training and retake the training every two years. That training includes text and videos about sex abuse in general, about the organization’s rules for preventing abuse (such as no private one-on-one meetings between Scout leaders and Scouts) and about its process for reporting abuse.
The training can be taken in groups, on line or via a $3.99 DVD. (The BSA estimates that it takes 40 minutes to complete the DVD training.) After the training, volunteers must pass a quiz with 25 questions, such as, “All abuse can be prevented with rigorous criminal background checks” (true or false) and “A scout tells highly improbable story of abuse. What should you do?”
The policy took effect June 1, according to the BSA website.
Changing times compel changing policies
The move marks the latest in a series of changes over the past 25 years in how the BSA addresses sex abuse, as society has become more aware of abuse within institutions, victims have filed more lawsuits against the organization and the news media have given those cases more coverage.
The Texas-based nonprofit developed extensive educational materials about sex abuse starting in the mid-1980s, for both Scout leaders and Scouts, as the wave of lawsuits began. Over the past decade, the BSA gradually instituted criminal background checks for many Scout volunteers, after years of resisting calls to do so.
However, victims have complained that the BSA’s policies for preventing abuse and for handling allegations have been applied haphazardly at Scout units around the country, and pointed out that volunteers did not have to go through the youth protection training. The BSA had said it had no authority to require the training.
In the recent Portland case, Kelly Clark, the attorney for the victim (who was repeatedly molested by his Scout leader as a child), told the jury several times during closing arguments that local Scout leaders were not required to be trained on the BSA’s Youth Protection Guidelines.
Clark said he believes the the lawsuit is one reason for the policy announced last week. The BSA, however, has always said that its measures to combat sex abuse have nothing to do with abuse in Scouting or lawsuits, and last week’s announcement followed the same line. It said the new policy was instituted “to increase awareness of this societal problem and to create even greater barriers to abuse than already exist today in Scouting.”
A BSA spokesman would not say why the organization now believes it can mandate the training for all volunteers.