Image: Steven Larkins (Image source: SMH)
The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recently released its findings for Case Study 1. This looked into Scouts Australia’s handling of child abuse allegations, focusing on the case of convicted paedophile Steven (‘Skip’) Larkins. It appears it’s still looking into allegations against Scout leader Paul Hayes, also known by his scout name Grizzly.
Media reports generally refer to the commission’s findings in relation to Larkins as “damning”of the organisation, and of other organisations that failed to stop Larkins in his tracks, including the NSW Police, the NSW Department of Community Services, and even the Commission for Children and Young People. Nothing to disagree with there.
A reading of the commission’s report is useful in that it explores how it is that a paedophile can operate for as long as Steven Larkins did. A limitation, though, is that the report doesn’t really give parents the answer to the questions that are likely to be at the forefront of most parents’ minds: “Okay, can I trust Scouts with my child?” “Is this a case of one bad apple?” “How big are the cracks that Larkins fell through?” The Australian scouting movement involves 65,000 children. That’s a lot of children and indicates a very high level of trust in the organisation. Is this trust warranted?
The case study approach has its merits. It allows for a detailed investigation of an instance of organisational failing, which can inform the commission and the public about exactly how people like Steven Larkins can slip through various nets supposed to protect children. It can shine a light on the sorts of things organisational members say about why they didn’t do what they should have done. And about how whistle-blowers like Armand Hoitink get treated when they try to do the right thing.
A limitation, however, of the case study approach is that it can’t really reveal how deep the problem of child abuse and its cover up runs within an organisation. Yes, it gives a lot of clues, but much, much, much more information about how Scouts Australia has dealt with other allegations of abuse among members and volunteers would be very welcome. Hopefully, this will come out when the commission delivers its interim report in the middle of the year.
In the United States, there has been extensive investigations of the Scouting movement there. US readers will be very familiar with the Scouts’ ‘perversion files’ spanning 1947 through 2005, revealing decades of cover-ups of child abusers operating within the movement and involving staggering numbers of offenders and allegations. As the Larkins case study reveals, protection of organisational reputation trumped protection of children in the US Scouting movement for decades. Credit for exposing the rot goes not to the organisation, but to the victims, their parents, and the tireless work of people like attorney Kelly Clark, who passed away recently, shortly after urging Australian victims of the Scouts to speak up. The Scouting movement elsewhere in the world has been the subject of extensive reporting of child abuse problems as well. And there have been other reported abuse allegations in Australia too.
While we have only one instance of protection of a child abuser within Scouts Australia to think deeply about now following the release of the commission’s report, it’s all too easy for defenders of organisations like Scouts Australia to say: “Okay, there was one bad apple, but overall, parents can trust us to look after their children.” It is welcome news, therefore, that the commission plans to conduct further investigations into systemic issues within Scouts Australia.
As the Scouts like to say: “Be prepared.” While parents and caregivers who have children involved in Scouts Australia or who are contemplating entrusting children with the movement are waiting for the commission’s anticipated more broad-ranging investigation into and reporting of the Australian Scouting movement, they’d be well-advised to acquaint themselves with United States history of cover-ups within the Scouting movement, and of the experiences of victims and parents in other places in the world. To this end, see the links in the ‘read more here’ section below. You won’t find the information you need for an informed decision on official Scouting movement websites, although you will find reassuring statements such as how the Australian Scouting movement has “zero tolerance” towards child abuse.
[Postscript: Steven Larkins is about to be released on parole back into society. In what is clearly an attempt to restore some of its tarnished reputation following the damning revelations about Larkins and the commission’s report, Scouts Australia has called for the NSW Attorney General to appeal the leniency of Larkin’s sentence. Given Larkins has spent only 19 months in prison, most people would have to support that call. Given Scouts Australia’s proven culpability in allowing allowing Larkins to do what he did for so long, though, it seems a little rich of the organisation to now be positioning itself as the ‘good guy’.].
[Postscript: Former US Boy Scout leader, James Allen Wilson, convicted of abusing a child for years from the age of 11 onward, has just been indicted on first degree sex abuse allegations. Investigators are searching for more of Wilson’s victims. The mother of one of Wilson’s victims had this to say to parents: “My fear is if there’s others, how many?” “You expect your child to be safe in an organization like that.” “If you feel like something is going on, or you’re not comfortable with something, then don’t let (your children) go. Just because everyone else might be, don’t feel like you have to put your child in that situation.”
Read more here:
Recent coverage on Steven Larkins:
- ‘Scouts failed child abuse victim’
- Royal Commission finds Scouts, police, welfare failed to stop paedophile Steven Larkins from offending
- Scouts call for tougher sentences for paedophiles
- Royal Commission finalises report into Newcastle paedophile
- Scout abuse points to government failures
Child abuse within the scouting movement worldwide:
- Website displaying Boy Scout ‘perversion files’ crashes
- Inside the Boy Scouts’ ‘perversion files’
- The Truth about the Boy Scout Files
- Prineville Boy Scouts leader indicted on first degree sex abuse
- Prineville family talks of scoutmaster’s alleged abuse
- US lawyer tells Australian victims of abuse by Scouts to speak up
- Scouting sex abuse cases (Wikipedia)
PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION: HELP OBTAIN JUSTICE FOR LEWIS BLAYSE FROM THE SALVATION ARMY.