Being an honorable Boy Scout is not about forcing yourself to carry secrets of hurt and shame.
Honoring the Boy Scouts is not about protecting the public from the truth about your experience in Scouting.
So what do you do if you are a Scout who was sexually abused? What do you do if you ALSO loved Scouting? Maybe your own son is a Scout. Maybe you are an Eagle Scout. Maybe you even helped your son earn that honor because you loved the Boy Scouts that much.
Maybe Scouting helped you through the hardest time of your life … even though that hardship was caused by a child predator inside of the Boy Scouts.
As a survivor of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church—and in a school with a “cult like” following—I understand those torn loyalties: Some of my best memories are from high school. Some of my worst nightmares came from the same place. The choir (facilitated the choir director) was the place where I found my home. And it was the place where my life was destroyed … by the choir director.
How does an abuse survivor reconcile that? I learned that for me, I needed to reconcile the conflict with honor and with truth. I need to honor myself. I could not honor myself if I remained quiet.
I needed to make sure that what happened to me did not happen to another girl. It didn’t mean that I was on a mission to destroy the school (which I still *want* to do a lot of the time, but I am working on that), and it doesn’t mean that I am on a mission to tear apart the Catholic Church. It means that I want to rid both institutions of the people who hurt kids.
It means that it’s time for openness, truth, and accountability. It means that our communities require responsibility. It means that it is safe RIGHT NOW for any survivor who is ready to come forward. It means that we are working towards a day where every survivor feels safe to come forward.
So back to the Boy Scouts.
My biggest, most important job is that of mom. My son is entering the eighth grade in a couple of weeks. There is a Boy Scout troop at his school and there was some pretty serious pressure in the early years to get my son to join the Cub Scout troop. My answer was a hard no.
I was truthful about my reasons, and this was before the scandal was well known. I was nice and super diplomatic, but I was honest.
Moms did not meet me with enthusiasm.
The reactions of seemingly sane mothers always surprise me: “Joelle, that was a long time ago.” “Joelle, that would never happen in our troop.” “Joelle, why would you hurt the Boy Scouts like that?”
Here is what I have to say:
- It was not a long time ago. Survivors from the Boy Scouts are living with the shame and pain of abuse right now.
- The Boy Scouts are accused of keeping the names of up to 1,500 leaders accused of misconduct secret. We don’t know where these leaders are now or if they are working with children.
- Attorneys for victims have found Boy Scout leaders in the “Perversion Files” working with children right now.
- The Boy Scouts of America is contemplating bankruptcy because of an onslaught of sex abuse cases.
Without brave survivors coming forward in the civil courts, we wouldn’t know any of this. The perversion files would still be secret. Victims would still be living in silence and shame. It would still be business as usual.
Coming forward is one of the bravest things that a Boy Scout can do. There is no greater duty to yourself, Scouting, and every boy who strives for the honor of Eagle Scout.
Coming forward is true leadership in the face of adversity. It is telling the truth and keeping your promises.
There is no conflict.
I believe you and I believe in you.
If you want more information on next steps, you can contact me, download my resource guide here, or go to the National Crime Victims Bar Association on how to find an attorney and learn the rights in the state where you were sexually abused.
The Boy Scout Law
A Scout is:
TRUSTWORTHY. Tell the truth and keep promises. People can depend on you.
LOYAL. Show that you care about your family, friends, Scout leaders, school, and country.
HELPFUL. Volunteer to help others without expecting a reward.
FRIENDLY. Be a friend to everyone, even people who are very different from you.
COURTEOUS. Be polite to everyone and always use good manners.
KIND. Treat others as you want to be treated . Never harm or kill any living thing without good reason.
OBEDIENT. Follow the rules of your family, school, and pack. Obey the laws of your community and country.
CHEERFUL. Look for the bright side of life. Cheerfully do tasks that come your way. Try to help others be happy.
THRIFTY. Work to pay your own way. Try not to be wasteful. Use time, food, supplies, and natural resources wisely.
BRAVE. Face difficult situations even when you feel afraid. Do what you think is right despite what others might be doing or saying.
CLEAN. Keep your body and mind fit . Help keep your home and community clean.
REVERENT. Be reverent toward God. Be faithful in your religious duties. Respect the beliefs of others.