Boy Scouts and Sexual Abuse: What Will Happen to 'It happened to me'?
There are some things a parent doesn't want to think, let alone talk, about. For many, chief among those would be sexual assault and abuse of his or her own children. Yet evil far too frequently flourishes in silence. That's why there are times when some individual or group has to be brave enough not just to speak out, but to genuinely try to protect the vulnerable when far too many either are silent or simply don't care.
That's exactly what the Boy Scouts of America tried to do about the problem of juvenile sexual abuse of boys years ago when they created the original video "It happened to me," in age-appropriate versions for both Cub and Boy Scouts. The videos are designed both to educate and to protect against situations when a boy can be in danger from sexually predatory behavior. And given that this campaign (like the organization which started it) has long been quite problematic to liberals, the direction of this video will be telltale as to where the now gay-affirming Boy Scouts of America goes, or perhaps more appropriately, how it ends.
First, off YouTube (unfortunately, in not ideal quality), here are excerpts from the more recent version of "It happened to me," broken into four approximately six-minute modules:
1. "Check first"
2. "Go with a friend"
Also, here is a 3-minute excerpt from the original 1990s video, Cub scout version. It's half-corny/half-creepy (more of the latter), but honestly, I don't know how they could have done any better with the subject matter.
When I was a co-scoutmaster of my son's group back in the late '90s and early 2000s, my wife learned that two of her best adult female friends had been sexually abused as girls by family members. Visiting the local scout store in Lawrenceville, GA, I learned that this video was among the thousands of clothing, merit badge study, community service, and personal growth products the BSA offered both scouts and their den leaders. Concerned for our then-nearly 9-year-old son's protection, I rented it, and we watched it once together after he and I had a talk in advance. More on that in a minute.
Two years earlier, another Atlanta resident, Salon magazine contributor Susan Brenna, also watched this with her 9 year old son. Bear in mind two things: first, this is something meant to be shown only with parental permission (ideally with a parent or adult caregiver present), and second, the young actors in this video weren't trying to earn any critic's awards. Here was Ms. Brenna's experience:
But it has been unpleasantly jarring, almost paranoia inducing, to witness the emphasis that scouting places on the dangers of childhood sexual molestation. Even ahead of the Cub Scout Promise in the Webelos handbook comes a primer on sexual abuse, which boys are required to read and discuss with their parents.
At the first pack meeting of the year, Cubs are supposed to watch the videotape 'It Happened to Me,' which features boys describing situations in which they were abused. And at camp-outs, they can't share tents with unrelated men, even their den leaders.
Considering how some pedophiles have used organizations like the Boy Scouts to get close to children, there's certainly good reason for the leadership to be scrupulously careful. And the video does prompt the intended results. A very young Scout I know was flashed by a teenager in a public bathroom. It became, as they say, a teachable moment when he came out of the bathroom and proclaimed to the adult who was with him, 'I've been sexually abused.'
Note: to a child, perception is everything. I once knew a fellow churchgoer whose son was as "he-manly" as God could make. Yet when he was younger, some kids called him "gay" at some point. Wisely, the young man was able to talk about it as soon as it happened, but the father was amazed that for a period of time later, the son would still ask him, "Dad, why did they call me 'gay'?" Dr. James Dobson once said the very first unwritten rule of boys is "Don't be a girl." If a child has insecurities -- not that he's "gay," but that he just isn't enough of a "boy" -- events like being visually assaulted by a teenager can make him question why he was the one the abuser chose to exploit.
But as with so many progressives, protection of the innocent comes with a price they're uneasy to see paid. Ms. Brenna went on:
And yet, considering how my son already equates scouting with these lessons, I worry that he's going to confuse his pack's warnings about sexually predatory adults with the Boy Scouts' ban on gays. A 9-year-old is just beginning to comprehend sexuality. It's a lot to ask him to sort through the nuances: what's criminal, what's moral or immoral and what any of it has to do with the law of the pack. No matter what distinctions I try to draw between our beliefs and those of the Boy Scouts national leadership, Jonathan may infer from all this alarm that homosexuals are the people who do bad things to little boys. Isn't that what some grown-up Scouts fear?
Gay-bashing wasn't the point of "It happened to me." Rather, it was about personal protection. In fact, both in the version my son and I saw (made in the early '90s) and the later edition, both boys and girls were portrayed as potential perpetrators. Now, I have examined years of evidence and know that GLBT people are not "born that way." I wasn't afraid to talk with my son, when the proper time came, about who gay people really are and what "gayness" really is, and to tell my son the truth without demonizing fellow human beings who are just as precious to God as he is.
It's not been proven and likely isn't true that sexual abuse alone contributes solely to the complex state that is one's sexuality, even though a significant number of people identifying as "gay" have been molested. More important, though, is the fact that a majority of sex offenders, up to 80% in some studies, have indeed themselves been victims of sexual abuse, even as it must be declared that most abuse victims do not go on to abuse others.
Given all the above in this age of "drawing awareness to causes," the Boy Scouts should have been celebrated for attempting to educate boys, their natural clientele, about the dangers of sexual abuse and how to protect themselves. Yet when looking at these videos, the phrase George H.W. Bush once said of Saddam Hussein's actions -- "This cannot stand" -- comes to mind as I try to surmise what today's promoters of unbridled sexuality must think when seeing "It happened to me." And that's why I'm guessing that this video's days are numbered.
And my young son? It turned out that we too had a close family friend (we thought) who later tried to abuse my son. My son told me about it, exactly as the video suggested. And as I watch the young man my son has become, I've made it a point to praise God that he was protected -- through my and my wife's loving advice, and possibly through a video from the Boy Scouts as well.
Yet why should I be concerned a decade later, since my son left the scouts when we moved to a different state and got involved in other things? For starters, there's this story on May 24th about UK "experts" advising educational institutions in that nation to teach children "the proper way to view porn." Or the "Focus on the family" broadcasts from this week about a young American girl named "Lacey" who didn't know the warning signs of predators and became a victim of trafficking. Or this USA Today article from May 17th about how kids are, en masse, accessing porn at age 6 and flirting online at age 8. Then there's the ever-increasing eroticization of kids of ever younger age by advertisers.
This is a hyper-sexualized culture for many reasons, none of them remotely noble, and largely at the behest of the progressives who simultaneously worry that "anti-sexual abuse" means "anti-gay." And the constant bombardment of sexual imagery to would-be predators of kids must be like the sight of rows of beer and liquor bottles at a large package store to an alcoholic. In the face of all this, The Boy Scouts of America, for whatever reason (likely because they encouraged their charges to be "morally straight," given that they're much more apt to have a better life that way), has tried to stand in the breach in favor of their boys the past few decades.
With that in mind, "It happened to me," and what is done with that program (one among several abuse protection resources the Boy Scouts have had), will likely be a barometer of that organization's future. Let's hope the barometric pressure doesn't drop at all, let alone rapidly.
Kurt Wayne is married with two children and lives in Bella Vista, AR, where he is a web developer and works with Brazilian online evangelical Christian ministries.