Abuse scandal rocks Boy Scouts, worries local troop leaders
By CRYSTAL HERBER, Herald Staff Writer | 10/24/2012
Fourteen Kansas men were named on the Boys Scouts of America’s so called “Perversion List,” though none were from Ottawa.
Among the 14,500 pages of secret Scout files, released last week after an Oregon judge’s ruling, men from Wichita, Manhattan, Leavenworth, Kansas City, Olathe, Newton and Hoisington are listed along with allegations of sexual abuse between the Scout leaders and youths in their troops.
Scott Bird, a longtime Scout leader in Ottawa, said the situation is unfortunate for Scouting, and he worries about the repercussions.
“I think the effect it will have on Boy Scouts of America is that it will cause some to be hesitant to allow their children to be involved,” Bird, who has been involved in Scouting about 40 years, said.
Bird is the charter organization representative for Pack No. 3079 in Ottawa.
Pictures and awards from Bird’s days as a Scout adorn the wall of his finance director’s office in Ottawa City Hall. Bird worked to fight back tears as he spoke of a scandal that has rocked the organization he holds in high esteem.
“How do I feel about this particular situation? My heart hurts,” Bird, while not an official spokesperson for the Scouts, said. “I don’t want to make light of anything that has happened, but certainly I don’t think it’s representative of the entire organization.”
“[The Scouts offer] a set of core values that every boy needs in our society, and it’s a rotten shame that there’s a few adults out there that would take advantage and destroy those core values and give a boy a bad experience, instead of the rock-solid experience that they should have had,” Bird said.
The former Kansas Scout leaders listed in the recently released documents make up just 1 percent of the 1,330 men in the Boy Scouts’ “Ineligible Volunteer Files.” Two of the Scout leaders listed in the files were convicted of sexual abuse crimes against minors, according to a Kansas Department of Corrections offender search. Gerald Ashworth is incarcerated at Hutchinson Correctional Facility for various sexual assault charges and is due to be released in 2014. Ashworth was dismissed from the Wichita Scout troop, according to the file, in 1968. James D. Jackson was convicted of two counts of criminal sodomy and two counts of indecent liberties with a child. He was incarcerated in Douglas County and released in April. Jackson was dismissed from his Kansas City, Kan., Boy Scouts troop in 1985 for touching boys inappropriately, the file states.
The files, dated from 1959-1985, were posted on the website of Portland attorney Kelly Clark, who used them as evidence against the Scouts in a lawsuit in 2010 in which the plaintiff was awarded nearly $20 million. The complete list can be found at http://www.kellyclarkattorney.com/files/?sort=lasts&dir=asc&page=0
The day Clark’s law firm, O’Donnell, Clark and Crew, released the files, it also sent a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement requesting a Congressional oversight committee to audit the Boy Scouts’ youth safety policies.
“[G]iven the history of abuse in Scouting, the findings of the Portland jury, and the fact that Scout leaders are still being arrested for sexually abusing Scouts, we think it only prudent that Congress exercise its oversight authority to verify the quality, consistency, and efficacy of the BSA’s child abuse protection programs and policies,” the letter states.
The Boy Scouts organization, which celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2010, touts itself as a “values-based youth development organization,” according to its website. The Ineligible Volunteer Files were a means of protecting Scouts “by denying entry to dangerous individuals,” according to a statement released by Wayne Perry, national president of the Boy Scouts.
A letter sent to Bird from the Heart of America Council of the Boy Scouts of America in Kansas City, Mo., emphasized the incidents listed in the files happened many years ago, and protections have been put in place to prevent them from happening again. Those steps include a zero-tolerance policy of abuse, mandatory reporting of abuse allegations to authorities, mandatory background checks for leaders and a policy of not leaving a child alone with one adult.
“I think any time we talk about children’s activities, we have a responsibility to make sure they’re safe,” Bird said, adding that in his experience Boy Scouts of America has taken many steps to ensure youth protection.
The organization’s president issued an apology on the Boy Scouts of America website to victims and their families who might have experienced abuse, adding that Scouts today are “a leader among youth serving organizations in preventing child abuse.” Bird said he believes, through time, the Boy Scouts organization will bounce back from the scandal.
“From my perspective, Scouting is a rock-solid organization that helps boys grow into responsible adults,” Bird said. “Scouting is about developing leadership and establishing a set of core values that they can operate on for the rest of their lives.”