Infographic: Grasping The Staggering Scope Of Boy Scout Abuse

Why good data visualization is essential to a full understanding of this appalling problem.

Last week, a court order forced the Boy Scouts of America to release internal documents describing over a thousand instances of alleged abuse over the last several decades. When combined with other reports, the number of individuals barred from the organization under suspicion of sexual abuse in the last 60 years totals over 5,000 nationwide. It’s an astounding number, and to put it fully into perspective, the Los Angeles Times generated an interactive map plotting the allegations nationwide. It’s a powerful reminder of how sometimes good data visualization is the only true way to understand the big picture.

The map is part of a greater database the Los Angeles Times has assembled in its ongoing coverage of the allegations. Users can see where instances of abuse were reported year by year, sort the list of the suspected abusers by name or Scout troop number, or search the entire database for a specific name. In one sense, you could see such a coldly data-driven view as a dehumanization of such an appalling issue. But using this approach, the graphic is able to depict at a glance just how systemic the problem was—not limited to any single troop, state, or time period in particular.

The Scouts had kept the files private for decades, acknowledging the mishandling of many individual reports of abuse but claiming that the data, as a whole, wasn’t useful for addressing the concern. But experts disagree, and the Times’s investigation of the documents revealed patterns of behavior that seemed to coincide with abuse. Had the data been given a close look at an earlier date, the organization would undoubtedly have been better equipped to instate policies that attempted to curb the predation.

The Times’s database is not only useful for helping readers grasp the broad nature of the abuse; it could also be used by individuals who themselves were victims in years’ past. According to the Times, legal experts say that the public release of the documents, many of which detail the Scouts’ unwillingness to refer incidents to authorities, could lead to new lawsuits; for those courageous enough to revisit that painful history, the straightforward, searchable database could be an invaluable resource.

You can check out the map of incidents and read more at the Los Angeles Times.

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  • highlands6000

    The main point here is...WHY are there SO many pedophiles???
    And, if there's SO many in other organizations, what the heck is warping people out? Or have we been falsely believing most people are normal when...they really aren't? 

    Then I'm not sure if this graphic is revealing or horrifying?

    But it certainly opens a can of worms that society needs to address. For example, instead of the emergency broadcast signal on tv, there should be reminders such as "If you or someone you know has considered hurting a child STOP right now before you commit an actual emergency, the authorities have been notified...this has been a message from the child protection services!!!"

    Maybe if we reminded people on a daily basis, the message might get through their warped skull. In fact, even better, here's where the design community has an opportunity to showcase their talents: design a series of infographics to remind people not to commit crimes and where they can go for help if they need it. 

    Let's turn a problem into a solution!!!

  • 4_sanity

    Every incident of abuse is terrible and everything should be done to stop such abuse but the conclusions from this type of analysis are SOOOOO misleading and inflammatory. Given that there were 5000 incidents over 60 years nationwide which sounds awful, perhaps people ought to put it into perspective. That number represents an average of 83 incidents per year nationwide. There are currently 3,630,779 members of the Boy Scouts of America (2,588,326 youth and 1,042,453). Even if every incident represents a different adult member (not likely) and a verified case (also not true, since they include "alleged" or "suspected" incidents not just reported or proven ones), that implies 83 out of 1,042,453 adults are offending, or 0.008 % of adults.

    Now take a guess at what the actual rate of child abuse is by parents, relatives, friends, school teachers, police officers, (Catholic) priests in the US ? It's 9.2 %. This number comes from the Federal government Children's Bureau annual report on Child Maltreatment for 2010 ( 688,251 out of a total US population of 74,639,251 children were reported abused that year. That's a truely shocking and depressing number. The % that relates specifically to sex abuse is less but the incidence of sex abuse in the Boy Scouts and Catholic priests is actually "lower" than in the general adult population. And some good news frequently neglected in media reports is that the incidence of overall sex abuse is in decline.

    News headlines that spout "staggering" claims of child sex abuse aren't based in fact. Any organization with millions of members will have the same "infographic" maps as depicted above. Be vigilant about your child's interactions when they are out of your supervision but don't jump off the intellectual deep-end with headlines like these.

  • Mike

    Has anyone ever done a similar, global map of the abuses done by catholic priests? That would be interesting as well.  And here I thought the catholic church was the largest protector of pedophiles.  Looks like the scouts are trying to go for first place at least in the US.  Pretty damn sad. 

  • Irish718

    Pedofiles aren't usually gay. It's a power thing...I'm gay and left the cub scouts cause it was too gay for me....

  • jamessavik

    I can assure you that this is just the tip of the ice burg. Boys, especially back in the 60s and 70s, were much more likely to walk away and never come back than report sexual abuse. Considering that less than 1 boy in 10 was likely to report sexual abuse, you can multiply what you see here by a factor of ten.

    What people don't seem to get is that it is not just adult leaders that the scouts kick out, it kids that are gay or are perceived to be gay. For an organization that is supposed to be all about the kids, they have a strange way of showing it.

  • TylerNull

    For decades now, politicians and homosexual activists joined forces to attack the Boy Scouts as that organization tries to defend its children from homosexual men. Here, the "free press" inverts the narrative and yet STILL protects the "gays" and attacks the BSA. Oh, and where's the map of the thousands of sexual abuses committed by teachers' labor unions? Oops. The narrative is everything, aye?

  • DB

     That's the old "Look over there" argument.  When you don't have an argument against the charges, 6 year olds and weak minded adults use it.

  • Sophie Prescott

    Looks like that "no homosexuals" policy really worked out for them. This is tragic...