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Editorial: The parental imperative

Allegations of sexual abuse from past decades make headlines when filed under New York’s Child Victims Act. That is the case with more than 60 lawsuits brought statewide against the Boy Scouts in the past few months.

The issue is not frozen in time, however. There are sexual predators today looking to take advantage of children in many corners of society.

“Kids are still being abused in scouting,” Tim Kosnoff, an attorney who has worked on sexual abuse cases, told The Washington Post last April. “This is not historical.”

One of the lessons to draw from the abuse allegations against Scout leaders, as well as members of the clergy, teachers, coaches and others, is the need for parents and other family members to stay vigilant. Get to know the people to whom you are entrusting your children. Become an active participant, a frequent volunteer, in their youth organizations. Don’t assume evil is lurking around every corner, but keep your antennae tuned for when something isn’t right.

Trust, but verify.

“Trustworthy” is the first-mentioned quality of the Scout Law. An unconscionable number of Scout leaders broke that law, as well as others, if the accusations against them are true. Several of the cases were detailed in a Buffalo News story Tuesday, including:

• A former scoutmaster in Depew, Douglas Nail, is accused of molesting boys in the early 1980s. Nail was also a coach for the Depew Saints Hockey Club and served time in prison for possessing child pornography.

• An ex-Scout leader of a Lackawanna troop, Raymond W. Culbertson, is accused of molesting a Boy Scout in 1958 and 1959, and of immoral acts with three other Scouts.

• A former Cub Scout accused Ronald C. Williams, a retired Buffalo police officer, of molesting him in the mid-1970s. Williams has served prison sentences in three states for felony sex abuse convictions.

The Boy Scouts of America was aware that some child abusers were leading Scout troops. The organization maintained a list, called “Ineligible Volunteers,” that included the names of thousands of Scout leaders accused of abuse. Internally the documents were called the “perversion files.”

It’s not clear whether the Boy Scouts contacted law enforcement to report cases of known child sex abuse. That has been one of many objections raised against the Catholic Church in its handling of its sex abuse crisis.

Unlike the church, the Boy Scouts have no celibacy rules for adults, so that can be ruled out as a contributing factor to pedophiles infiltrating their ranks.

Five months ago, in mid-August, the one-year window opened for childhood sex abuse victims to file suits over decades-old allegations that previously were not allowed under the state’s statute of limitations. The “look-back window” gives victims a chance to seek reparations for their pain and suffering, as well as psychic comfort in seeing their tormentors brought to account.

The Boy Scouts now need to look ahead, to reassure members about the safety and value of Scouting. The Scouts need to be transparent about how they will deal with abuse allegations from the past, present and future.

The organization released a statement saying, “Nothing is more important than the safety and protection of children in our Scouting programs – it is our top priority.”

A lawyer from the Zuckerman Spaeder firm in Washington, D.C., Aitan D. Goelman, works with Abused in Scouting, a collaborative of firms that filed a federal lawsuit against the Boy Scouts on Jan. 6. Goelman told The News that a goal of the suit is to change behavior at institutions throughout society.

“We do think that the legal system can change institutional behavior, can deter institutions, if not the actual people that are raping little kids, but the institutions that harbor those people, protect those people, that enable those people,” Goelman said.

Anyone who cares about children needs to push for those changes. But, always, parents need to be vigilant.

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