Column: No more sweeping it all under the rug

11/15/2012 6:01 AM |

I began to write this column a month ago but then some newsmakers named Sandy and Barack got in the way. It (the column) was prompted by news reports that the Boy Scouts of America had covered up decades (1959-1985) of sex abuse, which in turn stirred up some uncomfortable personal memories of my own. And I suppose the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State scandal was a factor, too.

After the names of offending Scout leaders were released publicly, the first thing I did was ask Times/Review executive editor Grant Parpan to check the web for the name of the Scout leader who had attempted to grope me when I first joined the Scouts in the late ’50s. His name wasn’t on the list, but then we realized that’s probably because the incident took place before 1959. It’s also possible his name wasn’t there because his predilection for pubescent boys was never discovered.

What was most remarkable about the incident wasn’t that a pedophile was the leader of my Scout troop — it was my parents’ reaction to the incident, which, as I recall, occurred shortly after I made the transition from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. To their credit, they agreed to let me quit Scouting immediately, never to return. But that was the end of it. My father did not confront Mr. N., Scouting authorities weren’t alerted and, most saliently, local law enforcement officials were never notified.

An aberration, a momentary lapse in good judgment, you might surmise. But wait! That wasn’t the only time my parents opted not to drop a dime on a sexual predator. And the second incident was far more frightening because it lasted an entire weekend.

I honestly don’t remember if it happened before or after my brief experience in Boy Scouting, but other details are indelibly etched in my memory. It took place in a cottage in Greenwood Lake, N.Y., just over the border from New Jersey.

Long story writ short: The unmarried brother of a former high school girlfriend of my father’s owned a car dealership in Bergen County, N.J. He invited me and two other young boys — the sons of one of my mother’s nursing school classmates — to spend the weekend alone with him at the lake. And our parents agreed to let us go!

Am I off base in suggesting that red flags should have been raised? That parents today would think twice, or even thrice, about sending their children away for the weekend with a bachelor they barely knew? Yes, it was a more innocent era, but still …

Fortunately, there were three of us that weekend. I’ll call the brothers “Chip” and “Bruce,” and what I remember most is that we were inseparable for those two days, making certain no one of us was put in the position of being alone with “Henry,” whose unsavory intentions became quite clear as soon as we arrived at the cottage.

That was in the days before cellphones, and I’m pretty sure there was no land line at the cottage, so it wasn’t until we returned to Bergen County Sunday evening that we were able to tell our parents what had happened. And once again: silence.

Oh, I suppose our fathers might have taken “Henry” aside for a little talking to, and we never saw the man again, as far as I can recall. But once again, that was it. Hush-hush, no cops, no consequence — for “Henry,” at least.

My, how times have changed — for the better. It is inconceivable to me that parents today would let incidents like these go unreported and unpunished. Or that parents and school officials wouldn’t routinely alert children to the dangers posed by pedophiles and assure them that it’s OK to report abuse or attempted abuse. Fifty years ago, the response — at least based on my family’s experience — was to handle things discreetly and then quietly sweep them under the rug. Today, you can plug your street address into a data base and find out instantly if a child predator lives in your neighborhood.

And please don’t read this and conclude that my parents were clueless or, worse still, negligent. They were loving, caring parents who probably thought they acted appropriately and in the best interests of their child. That’s just how situations like that were handled back then — at least in civilized society. (In other societies, I suppose, that Scout leader and “Henry” might have had more to worry about than their reputations.) But today, at the very least they would be candidates for a serious “time out,” ranging from public censure to incarceration.

As well they should be.

tgustavson@timesreview.com

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