Scouts Honor was a disservice

Mary Haley
Readers Advisory

The Readers Advisory Board is made up of a cross-section of people from eastern Idaho who advise on this page, respond to editorials and offer a balanced voice.

Friday's edition of the Scouts Honor series was the worst piece of journalism I've seen in a long time. It's a shame to finish an important series in such a way.

What was reporter Peter Zuckerman thinking when he asked the question: "Did Stowell molest you?" and then give dates and a picture? If I'd been molested, don't you think I would remember when it happened? People do lie about this type of thing to collect money. And now, if someone comes forward, all the defense has to do is hold up Friday's paper and ask him if they read it. It might be enough to shed doubt on the truth of their statements.

Mistakes riddle this case and this article. This isn't just a Boy Scout problem, although there are definite mistakes the Scouts should address. With the title of the series, "Scouts' Honor," one would think the Boy Scouts are the only ones responsible here.

The first mistake, and the one that haunted this case all the way through, was not having Stowell arrested and charged at age 16 with the first reported abuse. That was the failure of an LDS bishop.

Sexual abuse is not a Boy Scout, LDS or Catholic Church problem. It is everywhere, and ignorance of how abusers function allows it to continue. The articles should have spent less time trashing one group and more time focusing on what went wrong and how everyone can protect their children.

Pedophiles are in every religion, every economic group, and the serial abusers look like good upstanding people. They often use religion to gain access to kids. The mistake ministers of all faiths can make is having a dangerous naiveté about pedophilia. The minister, priest, or bishop can't imagine doing something like that, so they quickly believe the remorse of the perpetrator. They get so caught up in wanting to help the "confused person who did this" they forget to protect future victims. Some actions have lifelong consequences, and pedophilia should be one of them.

You wouldn't hire an alcoholic to run a bar, or a kleptomaniac to work in a jewelry store, and you shouldn't hire anyone with a history of fondling boys to work in a Scout camp.

Not getting the courts involved when Stowell was 16 didn't do him any favors. He might not have abused again if he'd been shown the gravity of his crime at 16 and been prevented access to kids. The bishop assumed that what he'd been told was correct, and that Stowell was cured, so he continued to protect him. Maybe because Scouts in this area are largely LDS, they didn't question the "cure" as they should.

The paper alleges that, because Stowell's mom was on the Teton Council, the council should have known about his abuse. Please, we moms are often the worst ones at seeing our own kids realistically.

The Boy Scouts of America has the best child protection program there is. Nevertheless, mistakes were apparently made. The Scouts may feel that Stowell was "under the radar," but they apparently ignored the danger signals that their own program teaches because Stowell seemed above reproach. Pedophiles give gifts, separate boys, make them their "special" friends and touch them in innocent ways, like back rubs. This is a process called "grooming." They use touch and gifts to break down sexual barriers. Isolating kids is necessary for abuse, which is why the Scouts have the strict two-deep leadership rule. Anyone who works with kids should avoid being alone with them. This protects the youth worker and the child. Although Stowell's pattern of actions should have alerted someone that there might be a problem, we must remember that Stowell did most of his dirty deeds under cover of darkness and the deep sleep of exhausted campers and their leaders.

Reporter Zuckerman was right when he encouraged parents to talk to their kids about sexual abuse. There is much more than "stranger danger," out there. Most abuse does not happen at a church or camp. It is perpetrated by a close friend or relative of the child, often at home. Zuckerman forgot to mention the best resources for parents are the local Boy Scout office. There you can get great videos and materials to talk to kids of all ages.

Mistakes were made, and justice, at least toward the Boy Scouts, was served. In 1988, it is easy to understand why the LDS bishop acted as he did, and why the Boy Scouts didn't want to deny a job to a "cured" teenager. The important thing now is to look honestly at what happened and make the changes in attitudes as well as policies.

Both The Post Register, by not taking a balanced approach to this story, and the Boy Scouts, by not coming out with a clear statement of what they learned in this case, have done a disservice to the community.

Haley is a registered dietician, a writer and the mother of three children.

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