Tribeca Film Festival 2022: LEAVE NO TRACE Uncovers The Dark History Of The Boy Scouts

Leave No Trace
Image via ABC/Hulu

Leave No Trace screened at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend and will premier on Hulu this Thursday, June 16.

The Boy Scouts were an important part of growing up in my family. Myself and my four brothers all went through the scouting program, with my three older brothers all obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout. (I topped out at Life Scout, having discovered girls before I could finish the requirements for Eagle.) While I was never much of an outdoors person as an adult, I am grateful that I had the experiences that came with being in Scouts and I dare say that it helped shape me into the person I am today.

But thousands of young boys who joined the organization in over the century of its existence were not so lucky. Those are the ones who fell prey to adult sexual predators among the Scouting leadership and who ultimately had their abuse hushed up and their abusers left unreported and unpunished. Those were the ones who were left emotionally broken for decades if not their entire lives because of what happened to them.

Director Irene Taylor’s documentary Leave No Trace takes a deep look at the history of abuse that the Boy Scouts had to contend with and their utter failure in trying to protect their youth membership from those who would prey on them. It profiles victims who range in age from 18 to nearly 80, all of them who are struggling to process what happened to them, no matter their age.

To be clear, their stories are often told in detail that will be uncomfortable. But the film does allow these men to tell their stories, especially after having to keep them internalized for years and decades in part due to shame and guilt and in part due to societal pressures about sex abuse victims.

Leave No Trace points out fairly early that the Scouting template of boys being out in the woods with only spares supervision by unvetted adults would be a lure for sexual predators. The film makes it clear in no uncertain terms that the Boy Scout national leadership was well aware aware of their pedophile problem as far back as the 1940s. Initially, they internally classified the problematic scout masters on what they called “red flag lists,” a connotation that suggested to anyone outside of their immediate executive circle learning of such a list of possible communist sympathies. The Scouting leadership was in no hurry to correct that impression even while they withheld those names on the list from everyone including law enforcement.

Decades later, the problem still persisted, though by the 1970s the accumulation of names and reports were now euphemistically called “Ineligible Volunteer” files. These files would remain hidden from public view until they were forced by a lawsuit to release a portion of them. Even by the 1990s, in a Congressional hearing where the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program states that they run criminal background checks on all of their volunteers, the Boy Scouts asserted that they felt that their own internal process was sufficient. It was only the onslaught of lawsuits that the organization faced in more recent years that forced them to declare bankruptcy in 2020 would the Boy Scouts admit that they had a systemic problem.

To be fair, Leave No Trace – a reference to the Boy Scout ideal of leaving no trace of one’s passage through or camping in the outdoors – does state that the pedophile problem was not something encountered by a vast majority of the estimated 130 million boys who wen through the scouting program in its 120 years of existence. But as one interviewee in the film notes, one case in all that time was one case too many.

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About Rich Drees 6950 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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