‘Scouts Honor: The Secret Files Of The Boy Scouts Of America’ Explained


Netflix’s new documentary film Scouts Honor: The Secret Files of the Boy Scouts of America is a harrowing presentation of the heinous acts and grave crimes that took place with boys who were part of the Boy Scouts. Despite being an illustrious and reputed youth group, the Boy Scouts failed to protect or answer for the innumerable boys who were sexually molested during their time with the organization. What shocks most is the sheer number of allegations and also the callousness, which perhaps enabled such a situation. Along with the issue, Scouts Honor also presents a glimpse at the investigations that led to this discovery and is overall an interesting and important watch.

What Are The Boy Scouts Of America?

From films to literature and perhaps every aspect of popular culture, the Boy Scouts of America are the most recognized and respected youth group not just in the USA but probably in the whole world. Originally founded in 1910, the organization became an inseparable part of American life as the principles of patriotism, bravery, and service to the country all became associated with the group. The Boy Scouts essentially organize camps and outdoor activities in which young boys of various age groups participate to learn more about life. Most of the teachings are life skills, and many of them are outdoor skills that one might need in the wilderness. Along with this, the Scouts program also conducts various other workshops and activities for youngsters. The goal was, and still is, to train young boys with physical and abstract skills, such as leadership, to turn them into ideal individuals and responsible citizens when they grow up.

Ideas of good family and community, along with patriotism, became synonymous with the Boy Scouts, as the groups would take part in Memorial Day parades, holding waves of the American flag as a show of unity. As the organization grew in number all across the country, it became a trusted safe space for parents to leave their children. Not only would the children be able to spend a good time with companions their own age, but they would also be able to learn from ideal men who took on the responsibility of being scout leaders. By the 2000s, the Boy Scouts had become an integral part of American society and culture, with many supporters who considered them one of the most important aspects of the American lifestyle. In many cases, the organization also acts as the first step for individuals who later become part of religious institutions like the Mormon or Catholic Church. With this angle attached as well, the Boy Scouts are really like a base stone in the community, leading young boys to further major responsibilities of spreading religion and unity.

What Shocking Truths Were Found Out About The Boy Scouts?

While the Boy Scouts gained popularity and trust among the citizens for years, there had also been reports of breaches of safety when it came to the protection of the boys who were members of the group. There were reports as early as 1923 that stated that certain scout leaders were found or alleged to be sexual predators and, therefore, should not be hired by any of the other Boy Scout camps. Over time, the Boy Scouts actually created an entire list of potentially harmful or suspicious men who should never be appointed as scout leaders. Historically, too, a youth group like the BSA always attracted pedophiles and men with twisted criminal intentions, as there would be very easy access to young victims at these places. But the reason for holding the Boy Scouts organization responsible for the atrocities that took place is that the group hardly did anything to prevent such crimes.

As part of the Scout program, for a very long time until the recent past, a single scoutmaster was allowed to lead groups of young boys on outdoor expeditions and camping trips. Such trips sometimes turned into instances of abuse and inappropriate behavior. Over the years, there were a number of scout leaders who were proven to be sex offenders and were caught by the authorities, but the Boy Scouts often did not do much about it. The organization always needed volunteer scout leaders to willingly work for them since their whole operation is based on such a structure, and so they treaded carefully not to upset volunteers.

In many instances, the scout leaders who were found to have committed heinous acts pleaded guilty to the scout authorities and requested that they not report their acts to the police. The perpetrators would state that they would receive medical and psychological help for their perversions, but would then move over to some other state and get enrolled as volunteers in some other Scout camp. It is quite obvious that people like this would never turn themselves in, and the Boy Scouts stayed away from alerting the actual authorities about these people for a long time. What was even more shocking was the fact that the list of such perpetrators, which was maintained by the Boy Scouts, was often not adhered to by their own group.

Scouts Honor presents on screen a man named Michael Johnson, a former police officer who also served as the Youth Protection Director of the Boy Scouts of America for ten years. According to Johnson, when he first started work at the post, the BSA wanted to convince him that the organization was very safe for children, when it actually was not. Johnson met with a number of higher officials during this time, along with another journalist who was separately working on an article about the matter. According to both of them, the BSA officials mostly had no idea what exactly was going on inside the organization or what the reports and complaints were. Even though records of these incidents and information about the perpetrators were kept, nobody really bothered to go through them and take any serious action. All of it was just for the sake of keeping records, and it had no real effect. There had also been instances in which scout leaders committed such shameful acts in multiple scout camps since they were repeatedly allowed to volunteer.

By 2020, a little more than 82,000 men had filed complaints against the Boy Scouts of America for having been sexually assaulted during their childhood while being members of the organization. Some of the grim details about these incidents are also provided in the documentary by brave survivors who have decided to speak out against these atrocities. Some faced direct physical assault by supervisors or camp bullies while inside the camp and yet could never complain or speak out during the time, owing to blackmail or intense threats. Many were left so mentally traumatized that they would continue to imagine their abusers being present with them at all times, stopping them from telling the world about what had happened to them. Some victims even committed suicide after being traumatized by the incidents during their boyhood days.

What Is The Response Of The Boy Scouts Of America?

Scouts Honor also features a member of the BSA general counsel’s staff, Steve McGowan, who tries his best to defend the organization. According to McGowan and the Boy Scouts organization in general, horrific acts like pedophilia and sexual abuse, unfortunately, exist too largely in society, and therefore, it would be wrong to single out the organization as the sole breeding ground of such criminal acts. While their defense can be understood, it is simply irresponsible to try and brush past accountability in this manner. McGowan does, however, accept that the Boy Scouts did have a lot of problems and that all of them are being addressed and reformed at present.

For decades now, the Boy Scouts have claimed that they have a strict hiring procedure in which all hired volunteers are carefully screened before they are allowed to work with the children. However, people like Johnson make it clear that all this is just empty claims with no truth, for the organization was often desperate to hire anybody willing to volunteer, and even men on a pre-existing banned list could also get selected in some other camp in a different state. There is also the matter that some of the Boy Scout camps receive heavy donations and support from religious churches, thus sometimes making them a mouthpiece for the different churches. At one point in time, the BSA openly claimed that homosexuality led to pedophilia, which was absolutely baseless and outrageous. The organization stopped hiring gay men as volunteers, and when faced with criticism over this, they planned on changing the rule. The Mormon Church then indirectly kept the ruling in place, though, since they accounted for a large portion of the Boy Scouts donation. As of 2015, though, this rule was changed, and the ban on gay scout leaders was removed, which led to the Mormons cutting ties with the organization in 2019.

Are The Boy Scouts Still In Operation?

The watershed moment in the whole matter came in 2010, when a court case in Oregon revealed how the Boy Scouts as an organization had failed to stop a pedophilic scout leader who went on to assault more than ten boys, despite the local pastor knowing about his crimes. This led to more confidential BSA files becoming public, including the list of banned or suspected leaders. This, in turn, made it clear that the organization had internally dealt with so many cases of sexual abuse, and survivors now started to come up with their own accounts.

Finally, by 2020, more than 82,000 complaints had been filed, and the survivors had filed lawsuits against the organization. In that same year, the BSA filed for bankruptcy, claiming that it did not have enough money to pay off these lawsuits, but the matter is more complicated than it seems. Since the Boy Scouts of America is an organization that stretches all over the country and has multiple smaller organizations under it, what exactly is to be considered their asset remains a much-debated matter. The bankruptcy case is still ongoing, with the survivors still having no idea when or how much compensation they will receive. Despite the tumultuous times, the Boy Scouts of America are still in operation and will continue to be so even after the bankruptcy case is settled. All one can do is hope that the organization will take serious measures to stop such heinous acts and actually provide protection to children, as they claim to be doing.

- Advertisement -
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

Must Read

DMT Guide

More Like This