Boy Scout officials and parents in Sonoma County expressed dismay Thursday at new documents that revealed decades of sexual abuse, but expressed confidence that changes within the organization have made it a safe place for children.
"Even one incident is terrible and it's too many," said Alan Westberg, acting head of the Redwood Empire Council, which oversees nearly 2,300 Boy Scouts in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. "But we're doing as good a job or better than any other youth organization at keeping kids safe."
An Oregon court made public Thursday thousands of pages of confidential records compiled by the Boy Scouts on sex-abuse allegations involving more than 1,200 adult leaders from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. The database, a blacklist known internally as the "perversion files," contains dossiers on six alleged molesters on the North Coast — four in Sonoma County and two in Mendocino County.
It follows a series of stories by the Los Angeles Times describing a culture of secrecy within the Boy Scouts that influenced the way it handled complaints of sexual abuse by adult volunteers. In many cases, it appears the reports were not shared with law enforcement but instead kept for internal use and screening applicants for volunteer positions.
Those stories initially made Bennett Valley scoutmaster Jim Cheney question whether he wanted to be affiliated with an organization that concealed abuse.
"It's a double whammy: First that this happened, and then that nothing was done about it," said Cheney, a deputy with 22 years at the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.
He took that emotion to a September meeting with parents of his troop.
"I knew no one would have the guts to bring it up," said Cheney, a leader with his son's troop for two years and scoutmaster since July. "So I said, &‘We're going to talk about the elephant in the room. I want you to know you can trust me with these kids.'"
Cheney said he understands that some of the rules are inconvenient for parents, like one that prohibits a sole adult from driving children to a Scouting event, but said it is important they stick to them because he believes they work. The rules also protect adults from false accusations.
"These kids come over to my house to play with my kids, but if it's Scout night they can't get into my car," Cheney said.
In each child's Scout Book, the first page has safety information they are required to review with their parents before earning a rank. Cheney said it's essential that children are aware of the rules so they can alert an adult if they are being broken.
Westberg said the new policies, including a mandatory police reporting requirement of allegations of child abuse as well as a prohibition against adults being alone by themselves with children, will help prevent future incidents from happening.
"All in all, the Boy Scouts of America does a very good job of youth protection," Westberg said.
Timothy Slater, an Eagle Scout with a 13-year-old son in a Santa Rosa troop, agreed the new practices limit the chance that a child would be molested.
"While it is reprehensible that scouting didn't report immediately, overall as a parent, I would still feel very secure letting my son participate in the organization," Slater said. "I feel terrible this happened to anyone in Scouting. It's not what Scouting stands for."