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Institutional responses to sex abuse discussed at law college forum

  • Blog Post by: Jeremy Olson
  • February 22, 2013 - 2:23 PM

Leaders of the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church were part of a unique forum Friday at William Mitchell College of Law addressing how institutions respond to allegations of sexual abuse within their ranks.

Michael Johnson addressed what the Scouts are doing to increase safety and reporting of abuse amid the public disclosure of hundreds of legal documents showing incidents of past abuse that weren't reported or adequately investigated. Johnson is director of youth protection for the organization and is a former police detective from Plano, Texas. He said the abuses by Scout leaders that occurred 30 to 60 years ago are shameful -- and that the Scouts are taking steps to apologize and support the now grown-up victims -- but occurred in a different time and era of understanding.

"The belief at the time was a pedophile was a pedophile," he said in an interview before his presentation. "If you were married and had two kids, you couldn't be one. So everyone was looking for the single male guy."

The old legal files show numerous cases, even in Minnesota, in which married men or others abused Scouts -- often at summer camps or on extended camping trips. The files included many of the documents kept internally by the Scouts to track suspicious volunteers for potential exclusion from the organization. Those files are still kept, Johnson said, only these days any allegation of abuse or suspicious behavior is automatically forwarded to law enforcement and social service authorities in addition to being documented internally.

Even concerns about "grooming behaviors," by which predators seek to isolate and deceive victims, are reported even though they aren't crimes, he said.

"Maybe the police have more information on this guy doing this kind of stuff with someone else," Johnson said. "We may be overreporting now, but at least we're getting that information to the authorities."

And those behaviors alone are enough to get volunteers removed from the organization, he said. The Scouts like most organizations now have a "two deep" policy, advising that two adults be present during organized youth activities. But Johnson said Scouting leaders need to also understand the threats to youth online when other adults aren't around to protect them from predators.  

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