Hint for Boy Scout Officials: When Attempting Damage Control, Excluding the Press and Public from a ‘Safety’ Conference Doesn’t Help

By TIM KOSNOFF

As this is written a gathering is underway in Atlanta, where the Boy Scouts of America is convening other youth-oriented groups at a symposium concerning child sex-abuse prevention

I wish the event signaled enlightenment on the part of the host organization. Alas, the one-day gathering is, in effect, being held in the dark. BSA officials have made it a closed-door event, meaning members of the press won’t be directly privy to what is — and isn’t — discussed by participants.

BSA is still in denial and is trying to deceive the public once again. The secret symposium, then, would seem to be a (the reader will pardon the expression) perversion of the spirit of openness that is supposed to be prevailing at an organization excoriated near and far by the millions who have read the sordid details of the BSA’s so-called “perversion files.” The organization’s leaders, of course, characterize the Atlanta gathering as a chance to bring together interested parties such as YMCA and Big Brothers Big Sisters officials to address the pressing need for oversight where children’s safety and well-being are concerned. Would it have occurred to BSA leaders that, in the wake of the tsunami of the bad publicity with which the organization has been deluged, we all have become interested parties?

At the very least we know that the Nov. 1 event had been in planning stages for nearly a year. Such becomes something of a tacit acknowledgement (or admission) by BSA officials that the organization would need to be in high crisis-management mode nearly immediately after what would be the Oct. 18 release of the once-secret files.

A report from the Huffington Post observes:

“The Boy Scouts have been criticized for a lack of transparency in the ways they deal with sex abuse allegations. They have fought to keep their so-called “perversion files” confidential, and those files reveal many cases where the Scouts failed to protect youths from pedophiles.

“The public is excluded from the Thursday symposium, but the organization says that will encourage candid discussion among participants.

“Michael Johnson, a former police detective hired by the Scouts in 2010 as national director of youth protection, has been the key organizer of the symposium, calling it a ‘groundbreaking opportunity’ for groups serving more than 17 million youngsters to discuss their shared challenges and anti-abuse strategies.

“‘Crazy as it sounds, this hasn’t been done before,’ Johnson said.’”

“Crazy” would indeed seem to be the operative term here. Indeed, much of the discussion at the event is supposed to be about how information about known or suspected pedophiles can be shared by youth-group officials. Wouldn’t it logically follow, then, in the spirit of sharing, that the information discussed at the symposium be shared with the press and, hence, the public?

“‘This information is an incredible tool that might be helpful to other organizations, but where is the legislation that allows this to be shared amongst us?’ Johnson is quoted by the HuffPost. ‘We want kids to be safe. We don’t mean to be defensive. But it is complicated.’”

It’s further complicated by the absence of public scrutiny, much less public input to the proceedings.

Suzanna Tiapula, director of the National District Attorneys Association’s National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse, was named to lead a discussion about information-sharing. She said she finds the BSA effort to be praiseworthy.

Other officials said the press exclusion for the event was intended to encourage frank discussion. But how soon will aspects of this candid gathering become known to a broader audience? A similar gathering at Penn State earlier this week was widely covered by media so we know what was said and done at the event.

According to the HuffPost, BSA “conference organizers plan to summarize the conclusions of the meeting for a report that will be made available to other youth-serving organizations that did not participate.”

As to when the information would be forthcoming so one imagines it’s anybody’s guess. Knowing how long the BSA stalled the release of the perversion files, the symposium reports could be weeks, months or years from now.

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