Boy Scouts of America’s History Shows the Importance of Screening Volunteers

Requiring background checks for volunteers in recent years has been seen as one step too far toward overprotection. Yet, for all the complaining surrounding screening school and organization volunteers, the lack of such a practice is far more hazardous, particularly for children and any vulnerable adults involved. According to a piece published in the Los Angeles Times, the Boy Scouts’ resistance to investigating volunteers – checks only began in 2008 – reveals an extensive history of sexual abuse allegations.

While similar organizations, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Clubs of America, began changing their background check policies when allegations of sex crimes against minors came to light in the late 1980s, the Boy Scouts of America were opposed. Reasons were similar to those given today: too expensive for the organization, potential to scare away volunteers, and giving a false sense of security.

From 1985 to ’91, however, the BSA let through more than 230 men with previous arrests or convictions related to child sexual abuse. The cases were not isolated; the men left unscreened continued to abuse more children through the organization. In the late 1990s, one-sixth of all expulsion issues within the Scouts were related to sexual abuse, but because volunteers were not screened thoroughly, such individuals ended up back in the organization.

In October 2012, a court-ordered release of several decades of confidential files unveiled the BSA’s practices and their correlation with sexual abuse in the organization. Aside from abusers slipping back in, as the result of no thorough screenings, the organization suppressed allegations to parents, did not even require character references and criminal history checks until the late 1980s, and admitted individuals who lied on their applications.

In response, one parent told the Times: “The black eye which Scouting has suffered in this could easily have been avoided if the council had taken the simple expedient of doing a background investigation.”

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