Worse Than Denial: Institutional Betrayal

With institutions covering up rampant sexual abuse, it is clear that there are vital conversations we aren’t having as a society.

After The LA Times reported that between 1965 and 1985 The Boys Scouts of America took very little or no action about suspected child sexual abuse, it announced it would review 5,000 cases spanning the past fifty years. The Times investigation found that Scouts’ officials did not report to police hundreds of cases of alleged sexual abuse and that as many as 1,662 male child victims were impacted. This scandal will continue to make headlines as hundreds of files are released from the BSA’s own collection of cases known as “perversion files.”

It is increasingly difficult to comprehend the enormity of the continued unfolding of inaction and unwillingness to protect children through intentional cover-up and denial. Indeed, these revelations are worse than denial, these are acts of institutional betrayal. The protection of predators and the preservation of reputations supersede a most fundamental human impulse of caring for children. Part of me screams ”What were they thinking?” while another part seeks to understand how and why major respected institutions like The Boy Scouts of America, Penn State University, The Catholic Church, public school districts and elite private schools (and the list goes on) could betray their own missions and reasons for existence. Leaders seem to have no problem compromising their own integrity when faced with the issue of child sexual abuse.

As a longtime advocate for sexual assault victim/survivors, women, men and children I have thought a lot about this. Perhaps we are not yet asking the right questions. Perhaps the cultural restraints of talking about sex and sexuality play a deeper role than we wish to acknowledge on the topic of child sexual abuse and sexual violence. It seems that there is a huge gap between being able to discuss sex frankly and in healthy ways, while at the same time the wider culture supports the early sexualization and commodification of girls and boys in media and advertising.

During this prolonged recession the one industry that is thriving is the porn industry. On the one hand, sex is exploited commercially to sell every product imaginable, yet youth in high school are deprived of being taught the facts about their own biology and about healthy sexuality. Parents continue to lack the support and guidance to discuss these still quite sensitive topics with their children. I am entertaining the notion that until we break through our personal discomforts, cultural taboos, and reluctance to talk about sex and sexuality in all of its complexity in healthy ways, we will continue to see the proliferation of sexual abuse along with inappropriate, ineffective and harmful responses to it. For an issue like child sexual abuse—where no one is for it and everyone is against it—it is curious that we do so little to prevent it.

There are questions we are not asking, conversations we are not having. The Boy Scouts of America had a rule of excluding gay men and boys from participating while at the same time collecting files on alleged abusers and doing nothing about it. I am wondering about this but have seen little reporting on this conundrum of the organizational culture. For sure, homophobia prevents honest discussions and explorations of sexuality. What are the other discussions that we are not having? Until we break through these fears and denials, I am afraid we will continue to witness and suffer betrayal from our most trusted institutions.

Patti Giggans is the Executive Director of Peace Over Violence. Peace Over Violence is dedicated to building healthy relationships, families and communities free from sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence. She is also the Vice-President of the Board of Directors for 1in6.

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Photo credit: Flickr / Fort Meade

About 1in6

The mission of 1in6 is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives. 1in6′s mission also includes serving family members, friends, and partners by providing information and support resources on the web and in the community.


  1. I’m a current cub scout leader. If you want to understand what the BSA is doing to protect youth I would suggest you conduct some research into our programs-

    “The Boy Scouts of America is one group advocates say has gone farthest to institute such measures to safeguard kids.” (MSNBC, November 2011)

    “The Scouts’ current prevention policies are considered state of the art and several independent child-protection experts told The Associated Press that the Scouts—though buffeted in the past by many abuse-related lawsuits—are now considered a leader in combating sexual abuse. ‘The Boy Scouts have the most advanced policies and training,’ said Victor Vieth, a former prosecutor who heads the National Child Protection Training Center in Minnesota.” (Associated Press, January 2012.

    For a summary of the Youth Protection Program (probably the best of its kind)- visit http://www.scouting.org/sitecore/content/BSAYouthProtection/BSA_Communications/parent_letter.aspx

    • That’s cool. So why does abuse still happen, and why would your organization only have ever awarded me Eagle Scout if I’d’ve lied about my sexuality? You REALLY think a culture of self-denial and secrecy in regards to sexuality don’t influence the occurrence of clandestine sexual abuse?

      • Read the links above- if you want to make a link between the policies regarding homosexuality and youth protection in your imagination go right ahead. In reality- such a link doesn’t exist. The Boy Scouts have the best youth protection programs of ANY organization. Period.

        If you’ve got an issue with the policies regarding homosexuality- then stick with that. You’ve got a great point and one that I wish you the absolute best of luck with. If you want to be a Scout or volunteer for Scouts you should be able to.

        However, Scouting isn’t about sex or sexuality. We build leadership skills, learn to try new things, work together, camp, whittle, sing funny songs and have a ball. We also hold a pretty incredible food drive every year. I cannot conceive of a reason to discuss sexual preference with my Cub Scouts- these kids are 7 and 8 years old. I think their parents can handle those topics. I see no need for a sexploration belt loop or academic pin.

        I recently spent a weekend taking our pack camping. I wrangled 30 kids through various activities, corralled them when they tried to wander off, taught 2 little boys to shoot bb guns for the first time, sang God Bless My Underwear, made smores and taught knife safety. I dried teary eyes, bandaided a skinned knee and boosted kids up into climbing trees. We let a bunch of boys just be boys- they ran without being scolded. They shouted without being shushed. They carried pocket knives without being expelled. We didn’t talk about sex, sexual preference, porn, or anything remotely like that. From what I can tell a great time was had by all.

        The things I read here make me shake my head. According to the prevailing points of view- my family and friends are pretty terrible people- We’re moderately affluent, monogamous, straight, mostly Christian, mostly white and spend time volunteering to help our community through scouting, our church and groups affiliated with our faith.

    • These documents are a how not to of child protection. They were written by a bureaucrat with no knowledge of child abuse, and designed to make the adults in the organisation feel like “Something is being done.” They contain no information about what abuse actually is, how common it is, or a warning that stopping abuse means reporting your friends and colleges and seeing them go to jail.

      Really it should say “LISTEN TO AND BELIEVE CHILDREN WHO SAY THAT THEY ARE BEING ABUSED!” then you are responsible for protecting the child, and stopping the abuse.

      Stopping abuse is actually quite simple.

      Compare them to something like this.

      • I should also add that the majority of adult survivors remember telling an adult about the abuse, then nothing happening.

        Children who receive help as children, have told an average of six adults before being protected.

  2. Bingo! By treating sexual activity as a great evil, we also unwittingly discourage our kids from coming forward when things like this happen to them.


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