Crisis Management Case Study: Boy Scout’s Sexual Abuse

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    How will the organization handle the revelation of Scout-on-Scout abuse records?

    The Boy Scouts of America is surely ramping up crisis management case study as it faces what could be another major blow to its reputation, with a Florida judge ordering the first known release of documentation regarding Scout-on-Scout abuse. The Sarasota Herald Tribune’s Elizabeth Johnson reports:

    A local judge has ordered Boy Scouts of America to produce records documenting Scout-on-Scout sexual abuse from the last decade.

    Twelfth Judicial Circuit Judge Peter Dubensky’s order, filed in June, is the first known of its kind requiring release of Scout-on-Scout abuse documents, says Sarasota attorney Damian Mallard.

    The decision came as part of three ongoing lawsuits filed in Sarasota County on behalf of three separate victims who claim they were sexually abused by fellow Scouts on overnight camping trips.

    The suits allege the organization was negligent in not sharing information regarding Scout-on-Scout abuse prevention, reporting, or really, from how it reads, any policy on the subject at all, despite being aware enough to keep records of incidents.

    At this point, the Boy Scouts have already been in all kinds of hot water related to discrimination and past sex abuse coverups, so it’s a bit late for them to “do it right,” per se. Their only choice here is really to minimize damage, and it shows in the statement issued by the organization’s director of PR:

    “The abuse of anyone, especially a child, is intolerable and our thoughts and prayers go out to those who may be a victim of this type of reprehensible behavior. While we can’t comment on the lawsuit, we extend our deepest sympathies to those involved. The safety of our youth members is of paramount importance. Recognizing that youth protection requires sustained vigilance, the BSA was on the forefront of developing youth protection policies and continues to develop and enhance efforts to protect youth through clear policies, as well as training and education programs for scouts, parents, and adult volunteers. The BSA has continuously enhanced its multi-tiered policies and procedures, which include background checks, comprehensive training programs, and safety policies, like requiring all members to report even suspicions of abuse directly to local law enforcement.”

    As the Boy Scouts have discovered, it’s tough to get out from under years of bad behavior. In fact, we can tell you from experience that, without fail, it costs far more in both time and money to recover from crises than it ever would have to prevent them in the first place. Of course, you can keep fooling yourself with that, “it can’t happen to us” attitude…until it does.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also the editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]