Few criminal cases are more sickening than unreported child sexual abuse.
The most high-profile of these has been abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy. It is not the only church, nor the only institution, where abuse has occurred.
But the jarring juxtaposition of purity and perversity has afforded it a greater degree of attention. That, and the fact that it has been so widespread and so studiously covered up.
This month, another sad legacy hit the headlines, this time in the world of sports. Iconic Penn State coach Joe Paterno and other university officials were fired last week over allegations they covered up 15 years of sexual assaults on children by a member of the coaching staff.
It’s difficult to even comprehend such things happening, especially when you have little familiarity with the venue. I was never an altar boy, and only had fleeting brushes with school sports.
But one group I did join as a young teenager was that founded by Lord Baden-Powell a century ago: the Boy Scouts, now a unisex club under the auspices of Scouts Canada.
When I was in the Sixth St. John’s troop in the 1970s, a handful of us gathered once a week in the basement of Holloway Shool on Long’s Hill. I enjoyed the oaths, the games and the challenge of earning badges. Most of all, I enjoyed the camaraderie
Our outings were a little more sparse than I would have liked, but I recall two in particular: a day trip to Butterpot Park, where we learned to light our own campfires, and a weekend camping trip to Random Island.
They were good times. And, to a large extent, did exactly what old
B-P had in mind — develop a brotherhood of young men, comfortable and confident in primitive surroundings.
There may have been talk of sexual misconduct by scout leaders, but I was blissfully unaware. The only danger that crossed my mind was that the frayed wire for our artificial campfire would, one evening, ignite the well-aged timbers of the school and envelop us in a fiery tomb.
No inferno occurred, thankfully. But there was fire behind the smoke of rumour.
Last month, CBC’s “Fifth Estate” delved into secret files that revealed chronic issues with pedophilia in the Boy Scouts of America. The U.S. branch has, in effect, been cleaning house. Over the past 20 years, it has thrown out 2,500 leaders over allegations of sexual misconduct.
But the files on these cases, maintained to prevent alleged abusers from re-entering the organization, were never shared with police, nor were they shared with their Canadian counterparts.
One such known pedophile, Richard Turley, managed to worm his way into Scout troops in B.C. in the 1980s, where he victimized young boys over five years.
By the time he was caught, Turley had left a legacy of abuse spanning two decades on both sides of the border.
Scouts Canada says it shares all pertinent information with police, but also denies the existence of a secret file similar to that in the U.S. Their vagueness with the media, however, has left considerable doubt. On Monday, CEO Janet Yale resigned her post, though insisting it had nothing to do with the controversy.
That these sorts of coverups happen is not surprising. It happens for the same reason that child victims rarely report abuse: shame and fear. For a club like Scouts Canada, there is fear that such revelations will do irreparable damage to its reputation.
Not surprising, yes. But not forgivable.
The message should be crystal clear by now. Any organization that throws men and boys together in isolation is particularly attractive to pedophiles.
And when abuse is discovered, it cannot be hidden under a cloak of shame and secrecy.
The longer the delay, the deeper the hole.
And Scouts Canada is no exception.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s
commentary editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.