Saturday, October 20, 2012

Boy Scout Perversion Files and the Scouts' Ban on Openly Gay Leaders and Scouts

In an NPR Talk of the Nation segment, Neal Conan talks with Los Angeles Times investigative reporter Jason Felch and child psychologist Polly Dunn about the recently opened Boy Scout "perversion files."  And the following statement by Felch leaps out at me:

We did some statistical analysis of the cases that we were able to review; some 5,000 cases that we had information on. And it's not a complete portrait, but what we could tell was that about a third of the men who were expelled from scouting, on allegations of sexual abuse, were married. That number could be higher; there were a number of cases where it wasn't clear, their marital status.

About a third of the cases involving allegations of abuse of minors in the Boy Scouts involved, Felch's investigative team finds, men who were married.  And that number could be higher, since in some cases, the records don't make clear the marital status of the men expelled from the Scouts due to allegations of abuse.

In a pattern now wearily familiar to any of us who have followed the abuse crisis in the Catholic church, the Scouts have fought tooth and nail to keep these files hidden.  The files show evidence of patterns now thoroughly clear to those who have followed the abuse story in the Catholic church: men who deliberately singled out certain boys, often those from broken homes and/or who appeared vulnerable in some way, and "groomed" them for abuse; serial abuse in which one man abuses a series of boys, often for extended periods of time; and extensive, deliberate coverup.

And then there's this: the attempt to point the finger at gay men and gay Scouts, and divert attention from the serious rottenness inside the organization itself by scapegoating a targeted minority group that is clearly in no way responsible for the rottenness that's being nurtured and hidden inside the organization--the BSA or the Catholic church.  The diversionary attempt to use social prejudices about gay men as molesters of children to draw attention away from what is actually happening inside an organization that resolutely chooses an anti-gay, homophobic policy of exclusion . . . . 

With claims that this policy will protect the Scouts from the problem of abuse of minors!

And so a New York Times editorial this morning rightly concludes

For an organization that extols trustworthiness, these files lay bare an appalling dissonance. The Boy Scouts battled to the Supreme Court to protect their right to purge gay and lesbian leaders and to exclude gay boys, insisting that openly gay people were bad role models. It bent to bigotry while hiding sexual predators.

In his discussion with Felch and Dunn, Conan asks whether the Scouts kept track of alleged or openly gay scoutmasters, as they monitored the abuse problem within the BSA.  And did they conflate homosexuality with sexual abuse, Conan asks?  

To which Felch replies,

Yeah, you see that repeatedly, in the files. Men preying on young boys - is often described, in the files, as "showing homosexual tendencies." The experts tell us that there really is a distinction between pedophilia and homosexuality, obviously; and - but I think the conflation of those two by the Boy Scouts in the '60s, '70s and '80s, reflected a misunderstanding in those years, about the nature of these tendencies. 
The Boy Scouts have excluded homosexuals for years, and have included - and banned homosexuals from participating in the organization. By and large, adult homosexuals engaged in homosexuality with other adult men, were not included in these so-called perversion files. For the most part, the perversion files include allegations of men abusing boys. And again, experts make a clear distinction between that and homosexuality.

The Boy Scouts have excluded homosexuals for years, and have included - and banned homosexuals from participating in the organization.  And yet the perversion files show that extensive abuse has continued unabated, with the active coverup of the abuse at the highest levels of the BSA, despite this ban.

This is to say that the Scouts have had every reason to know that the abuse occurring inside their organization has nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality.  It has to do instead with pedophilia, which is something altogether different from homosexuality.  The Los Angeles Times investigative team has found that at least a third of those abusing boys in the Scouts were married men, and that the percentage of married men involved in the abuse was possibly higher.

Blaming gay men, keeping openly gay men and openly gay Scouts out of the organization, would no more have ended the problem of abuse of minors within the BSA than keeping gay men out of the Penn State athletic headquarters or out of Catholic seminaries will end the abuse of minors in athletic organizations or within the Catholic church.  The scapegoating tactic only makes the problems of systemically covered-up abuse more intractable by diverting attention from the real problems that yield ongoing, systemically covered-up abuse of minors within various organizations.

Within various organizations almost all of which happen to be dominated by male hierarchies . . . . Organizations dominated by male hierarchies that are often interlocked, as with BSA, which is strongly supported by the Catholic and LDS churches, both of whom have adamantly opposed the inclusion of openly gay Scout leaders and Scouts in BSA . . . . 

Organizations dominated by male hierarchies that exclude women and ruthlessly exclude openly gay men, while closing ranks to cover up the serious failings, including sexual abuse of minors, of men within all male heterosexist clubs that close ranks to outsiders and employ diversionary scapegoating tactics to keep the rottenness inside their clubs hidden from inspection by the world outside the club  . . . .

There are patterns here.  They should be increasingly clear to anyone who really wants to address the problem of systemically covered-over abuse of minors in organizations like the Catholic church or BSA.  One of the patterns that should be increasingly clear is the deliberate intent of these organizations to scapegoat gay men even as the organization and its leaders know that homosexuality has nothing at all to do with the problems they're covering up.

Heterosexist hierarchical male clubs behaving badly: that's the leitmotif of one story after another about widespread, ongoing, systemically hidden abuse of minors within organizations staunchly opposed to the inclusion of openly gay men (and of women) that has come to light in the past several decades.   Until we're honest about what's now a glaringly obvious problem and until we face head-on matters of unwarranted male entitlement, misogyny, and homophobia in the heterosexist male hierarchies that dominate much of our social, economic, and religious life, we'll never get to the roots of the problem of much of the sexual abuse of minors that occurs in the various cultures of the world.

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