Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention in America: A Timeline

Scouting has long recognized the need to create a safe environment for its youth. The Boy Scouts of America incorporated in 1910, and by the next year had already begun to require character reference checks for Scoutmasters. Two years later, in 1912, the BSA began to provide guidance to parents and chartered organizations in selecting Scout leaders.  By the mid-1920s, Scouting was cross-referencing all adult volunteers against a list of "ineligible volunteers" to identify and keep out individuals deemed by the BSA as lacking the moral, emotional, or character values for membership. Before the end of the decade, every male adult involved in Scouting was required to register with the organization. In 1935, Col. Theodore Roosevelt stated that leadership is a sacred trust and discussed the existence and use of the confidential list of ineligible volunteers to protect youth, and two years later, this process was discussed in the book The History of the Boy Scouts of America.

The following timeline examines how awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse has grown and developed in the last 40 years across American society, law enforcement, the courts, experts in childhood development, and youth-serving organizations, including Scouting. 

  • 1972 The BSA begins developing standards for leadership as a guideline for screening adult leaders.
  • 1977 In a speech to the American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatrician and child sexual abuse expert Henry Kempe describes child sexual abuse as a "hidden pediatric problem and a neglected area." Despite this first call to arms on child sex abuse, it takes nearly a decade for the academic research to reach law enforcement manuals (see 1986, 1987, and 1990). 1 , 2
  • Late 1970s The rise of the feminist movement launches "previously hidden and taboo issues," including child sex abuse and incest, onto the national stage. 3
  • 1979 David Finkelhor's study Sexually Victimized Children sheds light on the prevalence and harmful effects of child sexual abuse. This and other groundbreaking studies in the late 1970s and early 1980s focus the nation's attention on the issue of child sexual abuse. 4
  • 1980s Legal standards evolve in ways that eventually make it easier to prosecute child sexual abusers. As the decade progresses, courts increasingly admit children as witnesses and drop their corroboration requirement for child sex abuse cases, acknowledging that abuse is a crime that, by its nature, often lacks witnesses. 5
  • 1981 The Scoutmaster Handbook directs that there should be a minimum of two adult leaders at troop activities. 6
  • 1981 Scouting magazine runs its first of many advertisements from the National Committee on the Prevention of Child Abuse. At the time of publication, this issue had a print run of approximately 1.1 million copies distributed to each registered BSA adult leader. 7
  • 1981 Seven years after its establishment by Congress, the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect publishes its first study on the incidence of child abuse and neglect, including sexual abuse. 8
  • 1982 The Chief Scout Executive provides instruction to all Scout executives regarding procedures for maintaining standards of leadership, including moral standards required for leadership, reporting unacceptable conduct to the national office, confidential personnel files, procedures for suspension of leaders, and refusing to grant new registrations because of questionable conduct.
  • 1982 The Supreme Court considers the issue of child pornography for the first time in Ferber v. New York. 9
  • 1983 Time magazine publishes its first cover story on abuse, called "Private Violence: Child Abuse, Wife Beating, Rape." While it focuses on physical abuse of children, the story includes content on sexual abuse. 10
  • 1984 Partially in response to the Supreme Court case Ferber v. New York, Congress raises the statutory age limit of a minor to 18 as part of the Child Protection Act. 11
  • 1984 PBS airs a four-part series titled "Child Sexual Abuse: What Your Children Should Know." A TV critic from the New York Times writes, "Until recently, the sexual abuse of children was seldom discussed.… Clearly, the topic has surfaced." 12
  • 1985 Scouting magazine provides information regarding a government publication titled Child Sexual Abuse Prevention—Tips to Parents, and in the same issue presents a "BSA statement about child abuse."
  • Mid-1980s The BSA contacts the FBI looking for advice on creating a program to prevent child abuse and molestation by screening out ineligible volunteers. 
  • 1985 The Chicago Tribune reports, "A national survey has confirmed what most readers of daily newspapers have known for months: Reports of sexually abused children increased sharply in 1984, more than doubling in some states … the topic of sexual child abuse has only recently come under widespread public discussion." 13
  • 1986 The Chief Scout Executive identifies child abuse as one of the BSA's "Five Unacceptables." The others consist of drug abuse, hunger, illiteracy, and youth unemployment. The BSA publishes and distributes educational materials on these topics, including a Boys' Life magazine article entitled "The Wrong Kind of Touching." At the time, Boys' Life had a circulation of 1.2 million.
  • 1986 Congress strengthens prohibitions on production of, and advertisements for, child pornography. 14
  • 1986 Oprah Winfrey reveals the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. Five years later, she starts a number of initiatives designed to stop sexual abuse and testifies before Congress, urging the adoption of a national registry of convicted child abusers as part of the National Child Protection Act. 15,16
  • 1986 Sacramento's Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training publishes the first known guide on child sex abuse for its local police force. It is called the Guidelines for the Investigation of Child Physical Abuse and Neglect, Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation. 17
  • 1986 Scouting magazine publishes a five-page article by Dr. Walter Menninger of the famed Menninger Institute delivering a message to Scouting adults.
  • 1987 Scouting's Procedures for Maintaining Standards of Membership is revised to specifically include issues regarding child abuse. All local council Scout executives and BSA regional directors are directed to be aware of child abuse issues when deciding whether an individual is eligible for membership.
  • 1987 Scouting magazine publishes a letter from the Chief Scout Executive on "Grooming by a Child Abuser."
  • 1987 The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children is founded. The professional organization was among the first of its kind in this field, created to provide education, training, guidance, and leadership for those working to end child abuse. 18
  • 1987 Focusing primarily upon the legal issues of charging, plea negotiations, and trial issues, the first comprehensive training/reference manual for local law enforcement is produced by the American Prosecutors Research Institute. It is called the Investigation and Prosecution of Child Abuse. 19
  • 1987 The BSA develops a camp staff training program and formally adopts the "two-deep" leadership policy.
  • 1988 The BSA publishes Youth Protection Guidelines: Training for Volunteer Leaders and Parents.20
  • 1988 The National Network of Children's Advocacy Centers is formed because "the social service and the criminal justice systems at the time were not working together in an effective manner that children could trust…. In the beginning, the Network was quite informal, and existed primarily to provide some direction and training for the field of emerging programs." 21
  • 1989 The BSA produces "A Time to Tell," a video that teaches 11- to 16-year-olds the three R's of Youth Protection—recognize, resist, and report child abuse. More than 3,500 copies were distributed in the first year. The video was ahead of widespread use of the VCR. The year before, VCRs could be found in only 65 percent of U.S. households. 22, 23
  • 1990 How to Protect Your Children From Child Abuse: A Parent's Guide is inserted into the new Boy Scout Handbook. It includes exercises that promote abuse awareness, which all Scouts complete with their parents when they join Scouting. 24
  • 1990 The Supreme Court allows victims of child sex abuse to testify in court through one-way closed circuit video. This decision makes it easier for childhood victims to testify while avoiding the personal trauma of having to directly face their abusers. 25
  • 1990 The U.S. Department of Justice produces the first manual for police that includes a full chapter on child sexual exploitation, entitled Child Abuse and Exploitation: Investigative. 26
  • 1990 A survey of elementary school districts finds that 85 percent offer abuse prevention training, with 65 percent of respondents reporting that their programs are mandated by state law. Such programs were first introduced in the 1980s. 27
  • 1991 The BSA creates "It Happened to Me," a video for 7- to 10-year-olds about child abuse.
  • 1992 The BSA advises the U.S. government on youth protection by serving on the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect (from 1992 to 1995). 28
  • 1992 The BSA contributes "The Youth Protection Program of the Boy Scouts of America" in volume 16 of the International Journal of Child Abuse & Neglect, ("the Official Publication of the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect"), vol. 16.
  • 1992 The BSA produces youth protection materials for Explorer-age youth (15 to 21 years old).
  • 1993 The BSA hosts the first National Child Abuse Prevention Symposium for educational, religious, and other youth-serving organizations. 29
  • 1993 Congress passes the National Child Protection Act, which is designed to open the FBI's national criminal records to schools, day-care facilities, and youth-serving organizations and thus provide a new avenue for screening out child molesters and others whose conduct might pose a risk to children. Access to the FBI's files under the NCPA is contingent on each state passing laws that grant access. By 1998, only six states had passed such laws, limiting access to the files for nonprofit groups. 30
  • 1994 The BSA requires criminal background checks for all professionals and staff who work with youth. 31
  • 1994 The BSA updates its "Youth Protection Guidelines for Volunteer Leaders and Parents" video, addressing how to determine whether a child has been or is being abused, and what the adult should do to protect the child. 32
  • 1996 The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times launch their online editions. The movement of data and news onto the Internet improves the effectiveness and breadth of background checks. 33, 34, 35
  • 1997 Congress passes the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which for the first time requires criminal background checks of any prospective foster or adoptive parent who is receiving federal assistance. ASFA is an attempt to update the foster care system as established by the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Reform Act of 1980. 36, 37
  • 1998 Searches of the Internet for news and other information becomes easier with the introduction of the Google search engine. 38
  • 1999 While states are responsible for licensing and regulating child care providers (such as day-care centers), only 41 states conduct criminal background checks on the directors or staff of these centers. 39
  • 1999 The BSA creates training for Venturing (coeducational Scouting program for 15- to 21-year-olds) adult leaders and the "Personal Safety Awareness" video training for Venturing-age youth.
  • 2000 The Child Abuse and Prevention Enforcement Act updates ASFA, encouraging background checks of all foster parents, not just those who receive federal funds. CAPE also specifies that congressional funding previously designated to upgrade states' criminal record systems can now be used to "deliver timely, accurate, and complete criminal history record information to … programs that are engaged in the assessment of risk and other activities related to the protection of children, including protection against child sexual abuse." 40, 41
  • 2002 LexisNexis launches its VolunteerSelect PLUS program, a computerized background screening program for nonprofits across the country. 42
  • 2003 After implementing criminal background checks in 1994, the BSA moves to third-party, computerized criminal background checks on all new registered leaders and introduces online training: "Youth Protection Guidelines: Training for Adult Leaders and Parents." 43
  • 2005 The National Sex Offender Public Registry launches. 44
  • 2005 The BSA publishes on DVD its three age-level videos: "It Happened to Me" (for Cub Scouts); "A Time to Tell" (Boy Scouts), which added scenarios on bullying and Internet safety; and Venturing's "Personal Safety Awareness," featuring new scenarios on Internet safety and stalking, acquaintance rape, and peer sexual harassment. The DVD is made available in English and Spanish.
  • 2006 An interactive version of the BSA's Youth Protection training is made available online. More than 84,000 complete online training before year-end. That same year, slightly more than two-thirds of Americans say they use the Internet "at least occasionally." 45, 46
  • 2007 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention writes, "When this report was published, an efficient, effective, and affordable national background screening system was not available" to youth-serving organizations. 47
  • 2008 The BSA again expands its use of criminal background checks and requires registered adult members to go through full criminal background checks. 48
  • 2008 Scouting implements Youth Protection requirements for youth to advance in rank and addresses bullying and cybersafety through new policies and training. 49
  • 2009 A respected legal journal notes that "there is still a debate within the scientific community as to whether child victims should testify in court proceedings. The debate centers on the psychological and emotional impact experienced by these child victims when called upon to provide in-court testimony." 50
  • 2010 The BSA hires Michael Johnson, an internationally recognized expert on child abuse detection and prevention, as Youth Protection director. 51
  • 2010 The BSA makes Youth Protection training mandatory for all registered adult members and requires it to be repeated every two years. 52
  • 2010 Parents are advised on the BSA youth membership application that abuse can occur "even in Scouting." The application also advises them of Youth Protection training and the two-deep leadership policy. 53
  • 2010 The BSA creates a mandatory reporting policy, which says that all persons involved in Scouting must report to local authorities any good-faith suspicion or belief that a child is being or has been physically or sexually abused. Further, the policy states that no person may abdicate this reporting responsibility to any other person. Previously, Scouting required each council to follow its local state law on reporting, only. 54
  • 2011 Scouting launches a new campaign called "Youth protection begins with you"™, which underscores the fundamental belief that the protection of youth—in Scouting and in local communities—can be best achieved through the shared involvement of parents, volunteers, leaders, and council staff. 55
  • 2011 The BSA includes vignettes in its Youth Protection training depicting "grooming" and abuse occurring in Scouting.

Sexual Predators Amongst Us, Ronald A. Rufo, p. 96

Sexual Predators Amongst Us, Ronald A. Rufo,  p. 97

Sexual Predators Amongst Us, Ronald A. Rufo, p. 98

The BSA's Youth Protection Guidelines were subsequently updated in 1992, 1994, and 2002; introduced online in 2003; and revised further in 2003, 2009, and 2011.  

Scouting Timeline. This was revised in 2005.