When John Castaldi hears of reported sexual abuse decades ago within the Boy Scouts of America, it makes him and his fellow volunteers more vigilant to ensure their scouts’ safety.
“It’s a tough thing. I don’t agree with the way it was handled (in the past),” said the 45-year-old scoutmaster of Troop 95 in Upper Township. “But due to what’s happened in the past it made us redouble our efforts to make sure the kids are safe. They want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
On Thursday the Boy Scouts of America released a list of 1,200 people which made up the group’s “perversion files.” The names were released under an order by the Oregon State Supreme Court. The files revealed incidents of allegations of sexual abuse that were kept a secret by the organization. Authorities were not notified in many cases.
But local Boy Scout leaders and officials say that is in the past and the organization has established new rules and procedures to make sure the kids are protected.
“We all go through extensive, extensive checks,” said 75-year-old Peter Karabashian, leader of Egg Harbor Township Troop 589.
Mike Mahon, assistant scout executive and chief operating officer at the Southern New Jersey Council that oversees the Boy Scouts in Cumberland and Cape May counties, said the organization enacted new procedures in the late 1980s and continues to do more to make sure the scouts are protected.
All adult volunteers undergo a background check and must pass a safety program every two years, he said. If the volunteers see an incident of child neglect they will contact the state Department of Youth and Family Services, he said. If there is the appearance of an assault they will contact the police, he said.
“It was different then. A lot has been done to ensure safety and protection,” he said.
Jim Gillick, scout executive of the Jersey Shore Council, which oversees the Boy Scouts in Atlantic and Ocean counties, said local scout leaders are given extensive training on how to teach kids to protect themselves. There are also other procedures such as providing parents with safety training and not allowing any adult volunteer to ever be alone with a scout, he said.
Craig Barnabei has been the pack master of Cub Scout Pack 87 in Somers Point for 5 years.
“For me, scout safety is paramount. It affects everything we do in the program,” he said. “Any time we do anything or have an event we make sure they are secure.”
Barnabei, 47, also said he asks all the parents to participate to make sure they know what their children are doing.
“We encourage parents to come to everything we do so they can see for themselves and have a say,” he said. “Any parent can have as much of a say as any adult leader in what we do.”
Bill Bader, scoutmaster of Troop 84 in Cape May, said he was not surprised to hear there were incidents, noting any organization with that many people would have some “bad eggs.”
But the 65-year-old said he hasn’t seen “anything like that” in his two years as a scout master.
If he saw or knew of an instance of sexual abuse “I’d turn them over to the cops,” he said.
“The Boy Scouts are changing things through their rules and regulations,” he said. “They are making a concerted effort to control the problem and deter it before a bad egg gets in there.”
It is not unusual for a victim of a sexual assault to come forward until years or even decades later, said Andrea Spencer-Linzie, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which oversees 22 organizations that provide services to victims throughout the state.
The organization receives about 10,000 calls a year from victims. Some are from people who have waited years to speak out, she said.
Spencer-Linzie said one of the organization’s biggest messages is that it’s understandable for victims to wait to report an incident of sexual abuse. “A lot of people never tell anybody. It may take years for them to be in a place to tell somebody.”
Spencer-Linzie said avoiding the trauma instead of speaking to someone can cause physical, mental and emotional distress.
“It’s a very traumatic event,” she said. “If you don’t deal with it, your body and mind deal with it in other ways.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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