Even as its past policies on sex-abuse prevention fuel controversy, the Boy Scouts of America is hosting an unprecedented closed-door symposium today with other national youth organizations, hoping to share strategies to combat future abuse.
The 10 participating groups, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the YMCA and Big Brothers Big Sisters, will hear presentations from some of the nation's top experts on child sex-abuse prevention. They also will discuss the sensitive topic of how uncorroborated information about potentially threatening adult volunteers might be shared among youth organizations.
Planning for the one-day session in Atlanta began late last year, part of long-standing efforts by the Boy Scouts to demonstrate a commitment to preventing the abuse problems that have bedeviled it and other youth groups over the decades.
The Boy Scouts have been criticized for a lack of transparency in the ways they deal with sex abuse allegations. They have fought to keep their so-called "perversion files" confidential, and those files reveal many cases where the Scouts failed to protect youths from pedophiles.
Two weeks ago, the Scouts released files from 1959-85 on 1,200 alleged pedophiles after the Associated Press, The Oregonian, The New York Times, Oregon Public Broadcasting and other news media won a court case against the organization.
The public is excluded from the Thursday symposium, but the organization says that will encourage candid discussion among participants.
Michael Johnson, a former police detective hired by the Scouts in 2010 as national director of youth protection, has been the key organizer of the symposium, calling it a "groundbreaking opportunity" for groups serving more than 17 million youngsters to discuss their shared challenges and anti-abuse strategies.
"Crazy as it sounds, this hasn't been done before," Johnson said.
The expert recruited to facilitate the symposium, Dr. Michael Haney of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, said the question of information sharing is "a very gray area legally," raising questions with no easy answers.
"You may have enough information to know someone violated your policy, so you don't let him be a volunteer," Haney said. "How do we deal with that so that individual can't just walk around the corner and find another venue to have access to children?"
The session on information-sharing will be led by Suzanna Tiapula, director of the National District Attorneys Association's National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse.