As an Eagle Scout of Troop 311 of Jackson, Mo., I can attest to the challenges of Boy Scouts. I’ve backpacked through the wilderness, camped during frigid conditions and was forced to live and cooperate with others. One challenge I never dealt with, however, was an abusive adult leader.
Recently, the Boy Scouts have faced a wave of negative publicity as claims of covering up sexual abuse have surfaced. From 1970 to 1991, there have been “more than 125 cases across the country in which men allegedly continued to molest Scouts after the organization was first presented with detailed allegations of abusive behavior,” according to an Aug. 5 L.A. Times article. During my time in Scouts, I occasionally heard jeers too vulgar to print claiming Boy Scouts is an organization of child molesters.
Let me be clear: those who abuse children, sexually or otherwise, deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. That said, are 125 cases of mishandled alleged sexual abuse actually statistically significant? During 1973, Boy Scouts saw its peak enrollment of 4.8 million Scouts — almost double the 2.7 million Scouts enrolled today, according to a Feb. 18 Washington Post article. Let’s be honest — 125 cases of mishandled abuse throughout decades of Scouting and tens of millions of Scouts is barely a percentage point.
This misleading statistic, however, undoubtedly will alarm parents and prospective Scouts alike. It will perpetuate the stereotype of Scout leaders as child molesters and deter adults from taking part in their son’s personal growth out of fear of being labeled a sexual deviant. Personally, I have never come into contact with an adult Scout leader who wanted anything other than to help young men to become mature, responsible adults. To these leaders, my own father included, I’m endlessly thankful.
I’ve learned essential survival skills, personal responsibility, gained a strong work ethic and developed my own well-thought-out sense of morality. I’ve made promises to be a lifelong friend and developed a passion for the outdoors. Camping with my troop, friends and father was, for a time, what I looked forward to most. I had the opportunity to learn to sail and travel outside of the country for the first time. I enjoyed what possibly was the best and most challenging two weeks of my life when I attended Philmont Scout Ranch, backpacking close to 100 miles in the New Mexican wilderness with nothing other than my friends and the supplies on my back. Scouting gave me the confidence to pursue and explore what I wanted to.
I’m a firm believer in the Scouting program. I cherish its impact upon my personal life and credit it largely for my personal development. I feel as if my experience is not the exception, but the rule.
I’m nothing short of bitter about the Scout executives and adult leaders who made the cowardly decision, in direct violation of the Law and Oath they supposedly follow, to cover up these incidents. These leaders made a conscious decision to cover up incidents that darkened the futures of the Scouts involved and Boy Scouting as an organization.
To any youngsters who read this newspaper, I wholeheartedly encourage joining the Boy Scouts. Don’t listen to any jeers you might hear from your friends. In any organization in which millions are involved, there will be wrongdoing. It is important to view these incidents as a fault of individuals, not the fault of the entire organization.
As I write this in front of the flag box I received at my Eagle Scout ceremony, I am reminded of the Scouting principles I, and all Scouts, have pledged our sacred honor to: to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrift, brave, clean and reverent. Those involved in covering up the abuse of young men in Boy Scouts certainly don’t embody these ideals. As a former Scout, please don’t judge the organization by the misdeeds of these few.
Robert Overmann is a junior English major from Cape Girardeau, Mo.