"Leave No Trace": documentary about sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts of America (review)

A documentary directed by Irene Taylor, Leave No Trace: The Hidden History of the Boy Scouts, for ABC News and Hulu, 108 minutes, studiously examines the history of the Boy Scouts of America and its history of male sexual abuse incidents, which was finally settled with victims but which has resulted in a Chap 11 bankruptcy.

The film, perhaps, makes the problem look bigger that the overall coverage of its history, like in Wikipedia, would.  It might be compared in principle to the continual scandals in the Roman Catholic church with priests, which may result in part from the policy of priest celibacy. There have been several films about this other problem.

This film starts out with a history of the BSA, which was founded in 1910 as an effort to keep boys in contact with nature and the outdoors while more boys grew up in newly industrialized cities.  The organization was given considerable power to monopolize its public impact with its trademark, although there were sister organizations for girls.

The history of problems goes back at least to the early 1960s, and may have always been around. 

The film presents several harrowing cases.  One is a middle aged man who said he went bald at age 13 permanently.  In fact, from appearance, it looks like he has alopecia universalis, which is total loss of all body and scalp hair, apparently permanently, from some sort of autoimmune process, maybe triggered by the emotional trauma.

Then the film shows us a family with a slender, seemingly attractive teen who cuts himself as a result of the trauma.  The family has an attentive dog and cat, who both know something terrible is going on.

The BSA headquarters were apparently located in Irving, Texas for a long time (near Highway 183, near Cowboys stadium and on the way to DFW).  In 1979 (the year I moved there from NYC) they started having their first hardships with layoffs.  But I remember that in the summer of 1981, when I re-entered the mainframe IT job market, that they had programming jobs.  I never interviewed there and I didn’t think I wanted to.

In fact, I had some tangential experience with them growing up.  In third grade, I belonged to a Cub Scout troop in Arlington for a while.  I remember one of the boys, Ivan, was so much bigger than everyone else and I felt terrified.  That summer, my parents tried to enlist me into a day camp, which did not turn out well.  I was always called 'Lazybones' (this was 1952).  They also tried a place on the Chesapeake Bay south of Annapolis called Camp Letts. 

The Scouts were good at honing in on practical skills like “tying my necktie” or tying shoes with ('algebraic') topologically secure knots, that I was not good at. 

Toward the end, the film presents the case of a gay scout, James Dale, who was kicked out and sued. The Supreme Court ruled that since it was a private organization, Dales lost his case. (I remember many conversations with a law student at Southern Illinois University on the case at the time.) But the case turned public opinion against the Scouts somewhat; and they eventually changed many policies, gradually loosening all policies about gender and sexual orientation over time, including allowing girls in some cases and eventually transgender. In the film James Dale appears as he looks today in middle age.

The BSA has developed a policy saying that no scoutmaster may be alone with a minor.

I also recall, that when I was in the Army and stationed at Fort Eustis as permanent party in 1969, the field grade officers were under a lot of pressure to become involved with the Boy Scouts publicly. In many cases BSA chapters had received public funds, and the Dale case caused this aspect of their operation to get more scrutiny.

I also wanted to share a PBS Space Time video from July 27 with Dr. Matt Dowd, “How Many States Of Matter Are There?”.  The neutron star interior stuff is pretty interesting.  What about strangelets?

(Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2022 at 6 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)