A true story of a Scout in action

Post Register editorial board members are Roger Plothow, publisher; J. Robb Brady, publisher emeritus; Marty Trillhaase, Opinions page editor; and Dean Miller, managing editor.


Each month, Boy's Life -- the Boy Scout magazine thousands of us grew up reading -- profiles a hero: One Scout pulls a crash victim from a burning SUV. Another rescues a friend who had been impaled on a tree branch. Yet another saves his family from a house fire.

The Boy Scouts of America National Court of Honor recognizes nearly 300 such boys each year with lifesaving and meritorious action awards.

Inexplicably, Adam Steed is not among them.

This community has spent a week asking what went wrong at Camp Little Lemhi and within the local Boy Scouts organization. But here's something we all can agree went right: A young boy exposed a sexual predator and in so doing, protected fellow Scouts from enduring years of misery.

Eight years ago, Steed -- then 14 -- blew the whistle on Brad Stowell, the program director at the camp. Arrested and convicted of molestation charges, Stowell has testified under oath that he abused 24 boys between 1988 and 1997.

Think about the strength of character it took for Steed to act. Fewer than one in five abuse victims ever steps forward. And how many of us at any age -- let alone at 14 -- would find the nerve to take on the establishment for any cause, let alone charge an adult authority figure with a heinous crime?

He did so at great sacrifice to himself. He faced ridicule, misunderstanding and was stigmatized.

"I felt like I was the one who got in trouble," he told this newspaper.

He had to go public with the fact Stowell had abused him.

He left behind a dream of becoming an Eagle Scout.

He had to accept the world as a much harsher place than he hoped.

Friends distanced themselves.

Classmates harassed him.

He abandoned a promising career as a high school wrestler, dropped out at 16 and settled for a GED.

But if he hadn't acted, how many more boys would have become Stowell's victims?

The typical child sexual offender molests 117 children before he or she is caught and stopped, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Stowell was stopped at 24 known victims and at relatively young age. So, if the national statistics are true, 93 boys were spared from abuse and its aftermath: depression, guilt, loss of self- esteem, an inability to trust others, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse.

Victims of child sexual abuse are more likely to become sexually promiscuous, putting them at risk of teenage pregnancy, AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.

Some studies suggest childhood victims of severe sexual abuse suffer permanent brain damage, nightmares and flashbacks.

Odds are that a male who was sexually abused as a child could be as much as 14 times more likely to commit suicide. Ninety-three boys will never know that trauma.

What better way to thank Steed for rescuing them than to award him the Boy Scout's Medal of Merit. The award is described as one that "may be awarded to a youth member or adult leader who has performed some outstanding act of service of a rare or exceptional character that reflects an uncommon degree of concern for the well-being of others."

Before the National Court of Honor can consider it, however, Steed has to be nominated at the local level. One man can make that happen: Grand Teton Council Executive Director Kim Hansen.

On the defensive for most of last week, Hansen retained enough good grace to say he'd consider nominating Steed for this honor.

Such an award would say who clearly did the right thing, even though it was hard and took guts. It would dismantle any vestiges of stigma still clinging to Steed's reputation.

A national honor -- even one that comes eight years late -- would reinforce to Boy Scout professionals, Scouts themselves and their families that abuse will not be tolerated.

And in redeeming Adam Steed's good name, the Boy Scouts of America will take the first steps toward redeeming its own.

Marty Trillhaase

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