Eagle Scout Jason Lee is on a journey — a journey he did not choose.
For years, his assistant Scoutmaster abused him. His abuser is now behind bars, serving a 30-year sentence, but that offers little justice for the broken trust, the inflicted grief and the lost innocence. To come to grips with what happened to him, Lee discovered that talking about it has helped, but for too many men, that doesn’t feel like an option.
“It’s not something we can talk to our friends and family about,” Lee says. “We feel like we’re walking around with this burden, this secret. The shame is something that’s extreme.”
On average, Lee says, a man doesn’t feel safe openly talking about their childhood abuse for decades, and men who have experienced sexual abuse are at greater risk for depression, addiction or unstable relationships, both personal and professional. Grappling with the effects of their abuse can take years, often decades, Lee says, and professional help specifically tailored for men is sparse.
That’s why the Boy Scouts of America has partnered with 1in6, a nonprofit offering support to men who have suffered sexual abuse or assault.
Nationwide, one in six men have experienced sexual abuse or assault, either as children or as adults, researchers estimate. That number likely is higher as many cases go unreported.
What 1in6 provides are free, weekly online forums for men to talk with a trained professional. Typically, these scheduled group chats last about 90 minutes, giving those who sign on the chance to connect with others — it’s an important resource for abuse survivors to know they are not alone, Lee says.
“They are absolutely faithful to their mission to connect with adults and help them lead happier, healthier lives,” he says.
The BSA’s five-year partnership will help expand 1in6’s national services by doubling the number of its online support groups and expanding its 24/7 online chat service. For years, the BSA has funded in-person counseling to any current or former Scouts or their family members by a provider of their choice. That service will continue. A survivor might not feel comfortable with a face-to-face counseling; this partnership provides another way for survivors to seek support.
“We are outraged that abusers have taken advantage of BSA programs to harm children. In addition to implementing strong policies to prevent abuse, we are dedicated to supporting victims when and how they need it,” says Roger Mosby, President and CEO of the Boy Scouts of America.
Standing by victims
As part of the partnership, 1in6 will also provide continuing education to assist in training BSA staff and volunteers to gain a better understanding of the impact of sexual abuse has on men and the best practices for responding to survivors.
While the cultural climate of listening and believing victims has shifted in recent years, many victims still face skepticism and dismissal from their peers and institutional organizations. For Lee, the response he received from the Boy Scouts of America was different. He has met with BSA leaders, both on the national and council levels, and has helped advise ways to support victims and to communicate safety policies.
“I am convinced, the BSA is sincere in its safety-first mentality and has made serious improvements in policies and youth protection from where things were decades ago,” Lee says.
Click here to review the BSA’s Youth Protection policies, training materials and steps the organization advocates to address abuse and support victims.
You can find information on the partnership and access to 1in6 services here.