‘Scouts Honor’ talk sheds light on sexual abuse

Dr. Doug Kennedy shares his experiences and advocates for sexual abuse victims during a talk in Brock Commons. He stresses that he is available for those who need the space to talk.

McKenna Howenstine|Marlin Chronicle

On Thursday, March 28, Professor of Sport and Recreation Professions Dr. Doug Kennedy, held a talk on the issues of sexual abuse in Boy Scouts and its impact on his own life. 

Kennedy’s presentation, “Beyond Scouts Honor: Sexual Abuse, Leadership, and Institutional Failure,” centered around informing people about how common sexual abuse is and the challenges in speaking up about these problems.

“If you are abused as a Scout, it is incredibly difficult to come forward,” Kennedy said. 

He pointed to several factors, such as the hierarchical nature of Scouts and the stigma surrounding victims of abuse.

Boy Scouts of America reported that over 72 years, more than 7,800 of its former leaders were involved in sexually abusing a child, according to ASK LLP.

In Kennedy’s presentation, a quote from the Washington Post described how common sexual abuse is in Boy Scouts. “The Boy Scouts are a magnet for men who want to have sexual relations with children. Pedophiles join the Scouts for a simple reason: it’s where the boys are,” the quote said.

Kennedy was a cornerstone piece in the recent Netflix documentary titled, “Scouts Honor: The Secret Files of the Boy Scouts of America.” The documentary recounts the cover-ups of sexual abuse the Boy Scouts of America went through to guard their reputation.

Ultimately, Kennedy said he was “tired and worn out from hiding,” which led to him reporting his experiences to authorities, and after a long and winding road, sharing his story with the public.

“The best thing you can do when you run from your problems for so long is to turn around and run right at them,” Kennedy said. 

The decision to come forward takes immense courage, but also tactful navigation of the legal system to reach justice. 

60% of rape or sexual assault cases are not reported to the police, according to the Central MN Sexual Assault Center. This leads to most abusers never spending a day in jail.

In short, survivors have no easy path to justice, and there is no shortage of these incidents. This is a topic that not many people have become aware of, which amplified the impact of Kennedy’s speech. 

Dr. Craig Wansink, director of the Robert Nusbaum Center, gave insight into how meaningful this speech was for him. “I really wish every single education student, social work student and psychology student had been there because it was really about trying to stop abuse,” Wansink said.

Wansink said this was one of–if not the most important–talks held here on campus.

Even with sexual abuse being such a heavy topic, there was never any concern over whether to hold this talk. “There was no hesitation. The one thing that I was concerned about was if people saw it as voyeuristic and potentially exploitative, but clearly people did not see it that way,” Wansink said.

When Wansink asked if Kennedy was able to conduct the presentation, he readily agreed. For the two professors, the talk was intended to focus on limiting sexual abuse.

“He responded by saying that part of what he was focusing on was the need for vigilance in all youth-serving organizations,” Wansink said.

In the talk, Kennedy expressed optimism toward the reduction of sexual abuse incidents. He pointed to organizations and advocated working to change laws. “It gives me hope that a lot of the problems in scouting are not going to be repeated,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy stressed his biggest priority: “I just want children to be safe.”

Wansink punctuated several takeaways from that presentation that stood out to him. “Something that I hope students took away is that the people who needed the support of Scouts the most are also the most vulnerable,” Wansink said.

First-year Tudor Vlad described his most significant takeaways.

“It made me really aware that people truly can’t tell what other people have been through. It is scary to think about how many people have been affected by something similar to this and are too scared to talk about it,” Vlad said.

Only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to the police, according to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. Vlad could not believe how high these numbers were. “I have to say that I was pretty surprised when Kennedy talked about how common sexual abuse incidents were, especially with what seems to be a reputable organization in Boy Scouts,” Vlad said.

Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted; every nine minutes, that victim is a child, also according to RAINN.

Several organizations and resources aim to provide support and minimize the occurrence of these cases in the future. If you have something to report, call 1-800-656-4673 to reach the National Sexual Assault Hotline and report your case. 

Additionally, Kennedy said his door is open to anyone who would like to talk.

By Coy Camiscioli