The Boy Scouts are at a crossroads to preserve his future and atone for his past. The bankruptcy reorganization plan that she recently filed with the court results from litigation pursued by men who say they were abused as children by Boy Scout leaders Last week, the group representing these survivors opposed the plan, saying it “Minimize the fact that the organization has failed to protect children from sexual predators”.
One way for Boy Scouts to recognize the wrongs of the past is to become a child sexual abuse prevention paradigm, educating members to stop the abuse before it starts. There is a way to do both – maintain good Scout traditions and recognize the pain of survivors – and it is this: institute a Boundaries badge as part of the Scouting program.
There is a whole list of character traits that Scouts are supposed to develop, so-called Scout’s Law: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, courageous, clean, respectful. It is assumed that this means that they respect another person’s boundaries. But assuming is no longer enough. Outraged, when one of the Scout traits is “obedience” to adults which can harm them, more must be done to temper these teachings and make them clearer. A Boundaries badge for scouts can help.
Childhood sexual violence remains endemic. One in ten children will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18 – almost all by a family member or friend. And some research suggests that these rates are only a fraction of what really happens – too often we do not talk enough about boys as victims of abuse, despite the ongoing scandals.
People who believe that limits are universally taught to students are wrong. The range of sexuality education programs across the country is wide. Only 17 states require K-12 sexual health education “Medically accurate”. Eight states and Washington DC educate children on consent, but 42 still do not. Meanwhile, 29 states hope to alleviate sexual violence by telling students to avoid sex altogether – without explaining anything about the potential for physical or emotional violence without sex.
Even a preventive program like the one taught under Erin’s Law – a law requiring consent and boundary education in schools named after a sexual abuse survivor named Erin Merryn – is difficult to enact. While 37 states have passed the law, many localities have chosen not to implement it. There’s no way to make Erin’s law binding at federal level; it is owned by states and local school boards, resulting in a veritable patchwork of sex education across the United States.
The refusal of traditional secondary education to cover everything related to sexuality should not, however, be fatal. When it comes to education for intimate activities, young people are particularly well placed to teach each other. Evaluations of peer-to-peer sex education programs find them effective.
Boy Scouts – and Girl Scouts – can become powerful messengers of boundaries and consent. First, there are a lot of them. In 2019, 61,366 became Eagle Scouts, in addition to the 2.3 million boys who engage in Scouting activities each year. Second, they tend to be leaders among young people. Eagle Scouts are rule-driven and therefore can become a virtual diaspora of community leaders among young men.
It would signify the beauty of the boundary badge. Boundaries do not have to be gender; they are in fact adjacent to sex. It’s like the peanut butter that we put around the pills we give to dogs; the theme of borders covers the message that needs to get across: that people have the right to choose how their bodies interact with the world.
It’s not like the Boy Scouts of America don’t know this is a valuable lesson. The scouts Family life badge – required for an Eagle Scout – already requires a Scout to meet their parents and discuss topics such as: good judgment with gender, etiquette and good manners. The topics of consent and limits are just the intersection of these lessons, but since there is no approved curriculum, we cannot calculate whether this connection is made.
If there is a top-down discussion about consent, parents may hesitate, but the investment in their child’s leadership provides a check; parents should refuse the Eagle Scout qualification – and the scholarship opportunities it attracts – reject what should be uncontroversial topics: empathy, do not touch someone without their consent, and respect.
This boundary badge would also work for Girl Scouts. Now that both organizations accept gender non-conforming troops, we cannot reserve these lessons only for those who identify in a certain way. And while victims of abuse are never at fault, educating only adults or expecting decent adult behavior has not seemed to stem the spread of abuse. Focusing on those under 18 allows kids to recognize when a border is crossed – and that they’re not to blame.
Teaching children about consent and how to talk about unwanted advances can save an American institution. #MeToo and #TimesUp have successfully taught us that institutions will not resist if sexual misconduct is allowed. Borders like these must be part of social America.
Perhaps the Boy Scouts of America will survive past the scandals, but only if the organization shows its determination to ensure that no other Scout – and no more children – are victimized again.
About the Author: Kelsey Baker is a former Navy and Certified Victims Lawyer.