At least a dozen teenagers assigned to work with police departments as part of the Boy Scouts’ Law Enforcement Explorers program have allegedly been sexually abused by officers during the past year, the Associated Press reports.
In the past five years, such molestations number at least 25, according to criminologists’ research being released Wednesday.
Sponsors have promised reforms to the program, which attracts tens of thousands of teens annually.
Law Enforcement Explorers is a co-ed program affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. The broader scouts Exploring program also places 14- to 20-year-olds with firefighters, medical providers, lawyers and others to learn about those careers.
In 2002, about 43,000 Explorers were assigned to police and sheriff’s departments around the United States.
Boy Scouts of America officials said they were surprised and concerned to learn of the incidents.
“One child, 12 children, it’s always one too many,” said Boy Scouts of America national spokesman Gregg Shields.
“I really don’t understand why this is happening,” said John Anthony, executive director of the Learning For Life program, which oversees Explorers.
Anthony’s office is reinforcing youth protection guidelines with all law enforcement Explorer programs and requiring supervisors to go through training about how to protect participants from abuse.
The extent of the abuse is detailed in research that will be released Wednesday by University of Nebraska criminal justice professor Samuel Walker and his colleague Dawn Irlbeck, who study police sexual abuse of women.
Almost half of the reported teenage victims of police sexual abuse in the past decade were enrolled in police Explorer programs, they found, with the rest abused during arrests, traffic stops and in other situations.
“When you have repeated incidents across the country, a new one every month, that’s a real problem,” Walker said.