The Boy Scouts have labored for decades to curtail sexual abuse of scouts by adult volunteers. But when their name was evoked in a lawsuit linked to the Penn State abuse scandal, the reference was not to problems -- it was acknowledgment that the Scouts' current prevention policies are considered state of the art.
While a Pennsylvania youth charity in the Penn State case has been accused of lax policies, experts in abuse prevention say most of the national organizations serving young people -- such as the Boy Scouts of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the YMCA, and Boys & Girls Clubs of America -- have performed commendably in drafting and enforcing tough anti-abuse policies even as they're sometimes faced with wily and manipulative molesters.
If there's a systemic problem, Kaufman and other experts say, it's lack of data -- from the organizations themselves and from law enforcement agencies -- that could illustrate progress by youth groups.
The Scouts, for example, said, "We simply do not track or have data that would help quantify trends."
Nonetheless, several independent child-protection experts told The Associated Press that the Scouts -- though buffeted in the past by many abuse-related lawsuits -- are now considered a leader in combating sexual abuse.
"The Boy Scouts have the most advanced policies and training," said Victor Vieth, a former prosecutor who heads the National Child Protection Training Center in Minnesota. "With even slight violations, there's no debate. Someone who transgresses one of these rules is moved out -- you don't need to give them a second chance."
Prevention efforts have intensified in the past 30 years, with the Scouts prohibiting one-on-one adult-youth activities, mandating criminal background checks for all staff who work with youth, and including an insert for parents about child protection in the handbook issued to new scouts.
Nonetheless, the Scouts' public image took a blow in April 2010 when an Oregon jury ordered the organization to pay $19.9 million in damages to Kerry Lewis, who had been abused in the 1980s by an assistant scoutmaster in Portland. The jury decided that the Scouts were negligent for allowing the abuser to associate with Lewis and other boys after admitting to a Scouts official in 1983 that he molested 17 boys.
Within a few months of that judgment, the Scouts announced that all adult volunteers -- now numbering 1.2 million -- would be required to take child-protection training when they join the Scouts and repeat the training every two years. The Scouts also created the full-time position of youth protection director, and filled it with Michael Johnson, a former police detective from Plano, Texas, who is an authority on child abuse detection and prevention.