Montana Scouts optimistic about future as they move beyond scandal

2012-11-18T00:15:00Z 2012-11-19T11:52:04Z Montana Scouts optimistic about future as they move beyond scandalBy ROB ROGERS The Billings Gazette

Coming on the heels of the most bruising sex scandal the Boy Scouts of America has faced in its 100-year history, leaders in Montana are seeing real growth in their ranks and a sudden increase in donations.

"We've got more supporters than we've ever had," said Case Haslam, finance director for BSA's Montana Council.

He's not really surprised by what appears to be an outpouring of goodwill.

"Supporters believe it's a good and worthy program," he said. "I really think that's where our donors are coming from."

The Boy Scouts organization is seen by many of its supporters as a group that continues to stand firm on its ideals — a strong belief in the roles of faith, family and country in a boy's life — as the world around it constantly changes and evolves. 

For example, the organization reaffirmed this past summer its ban on openly gay leaders and gay Scouts. The move sparked rounds of protests, most notably by past Scouts who had attained the rank of Eagle, the group's highest recognition. Some of those Scouts mailed their Eagle awards back to the organization. 

BSA's staunch, traditional stance can be very appealing to some people, said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center based at the University of New Hampshire, where he is also a professor of sociology. 

"They have kind of a deep allegiance," he said.

He also noted that the safety measures now in place to protect Scouts in the program are "among the best" in the nation.

That, coupled with the steady Scout ideals, leads to people having a lot of faith in the organization, he said.  

Which is partly why the latest scandal hasn't deterred support from BSA enthusiasts and members in Montana. 

That scandal began in 2010, when six alleged victims in Portland, Ore., sued the organization claiming they had been abused after the organization allowed a known abuser to continue on as a Scoutmaster in the 1980s. 

The lawsuit eventually led to the release in October of a cache of documents, known as the "perversion files," that the BSA secretly had kept, detailing thousands of known or suspected abusers who were or had once been local Scout leaders.

The release of the files showed that, while small, Montana and Wyoming, had their share of pedophiles and suspected abusers.

The most egregious case in the files was that of Luciano Ernest Martinez, a Scoutmaster from Greybull, Wyo., in the late 1960s and early '70s.

Martinez was arrested and charged in May 1971 with sodomizing three of his Scouts. According to his file, he pleaded temporary insanity for the crime and was sentenced to the state mental hospital.

The incident began in late 1970 when Martinez was accused of assaulting two boys in Cody.

The parents of the boys confronted Martinez, who confessed. He then confessed to local Scout authorities, telling them he was receiving professional help and also working with his clergyman.

Those Scout leaders, after speaking with Martinez and discussing the case, decided not to turn him in to authorities. Instead, they chose to keep tabs on him themselves.

Three months later, the local Scout office learned that Martinez had subsequently assaulted another Scout and had been arrested.

In Billings, Edward L. Leland Jr., a scoutmaster and middle school teacher at the time, was accused in October 1976 of repeatedly fondling an 11-year-old Scout during a campout.

Leland, who still lives in Billings and retired from School District 2 in 1999, denied the allegation.

Following the release of the Boy Scout's file on Leland, School District 2 showed it had investigated Leland in 2001 while he was volunteering as Senior High's Key Club adviser following his retirement.

The district dismissed him from the club and banned him from campus after students there complained of his inappropriate physical contact and the district's investigation found the complaints had merit.   

In Leland's Scout file, leaders in 1976 made reference to the fact that the school district was aware of some of Leland's behavior and that "as usual" the Scouts were last to know.

"This is not the first time Scouting has had bad publicity on something like this," said Finkelhor, the Crimes Against Children Research Center director. 

As such, he expects the organization will continue on as it's done in the past. Increased support among Montanans is indicative of that.

Scout leaders in the national office have noticed the continued support following the secret files scandal, but acknowledge much of it is confined to smaller communities.  

"You do see the numbers go up in certain communities," said Renee Fairrer, a spokeswoman for the Boy Scouts of America national office.

She described Montanans as "meat and potato" people, who, despite living in a large state, still maintain those tight-knit communities across the miles.

They grew up with Scouting, she said, and see its value and want to pass it on to the next generation. 

Kyle Smith, director of field service for BSA's Montana Council, said membership among Montana troops was up 2 percent and that fundraising goals have been met this year for the first time in his four years in the Montana Office.

Montana Scouting has the goal to raise $500,000 each year from families and communities and another $100,000 to $150,000 from businesses.

Haslam, the Montana Council finance director, said those fundraising goals, which are regularly met, are being met now earlier and earlier in the year. 

"Montana certainly is not immune to the economic woes of the rest of the nation," he said. "In spite of that, we're seeing more growth."

Along with its continuing growth, the organization continues to refine the safety measures its put in place to protect Scouts. 

Current registration and training requirements for Scout leaders involve extensive background checks and hours of required safety training.

Scouts, parents and leaders are encouraged or required to call the police directly if they suspect abuse. Leaders must now serve in pairs on Scouting activities and can no longer sleep in tents with Scouts.

Finkelhor applauds the organization's safety measures. But he'd like to see leaders begin to audit their system in order to find weak spots and then make the needed changes. 

"A lot of youth-serving organizations developed this prevention approach," he said.  

Many within the Scouting organization have talked about how attitudes and responses to sexual abuse in the mid-20th century were different than they are today.

Finkelhor acknowledged as much and said Scouting has done a good job evolving its prevention programs as they've learned better -- sometimes painfully -- how to respond to abuse. 

"When you know better, you do better," Fairrer said. 

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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