The Boys Scouts of America is “still not safe for boys and girls,” according to former BSA director Michael Johnson in a new Netflix documentary about the Scouts’ sexual abuse problem.
“I am here to tell you the organization is still not safe for boys and girls,” Johnson said in an interview with director Brian Knappenberger, for the upcoming doc Scouts Honor: The Secret Files of the Boy Scouts of America, coming to Netflix on September 6. “I have investigated and protected children my whole life. I am not going to sit here and be quiet when I know there’s still kids who are still at risk of being sexually abused in scouting.”
Johnson worked as the Youth Protection Advisor/Director for the National Office of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) from July 2010 to December 2020. Prior to working for the Scouts, Johnson was a detective for the City of Plano Police Department in Texas, who specialized in investigating crimes against children. When he was hired by the Boy Scouts in 2010, it was for a new position ostensibly aimed at addressing the organization’s long-standing issue of Scout Leaders who sexually abused young boys. But Johnson quickly found himself blocked at every turn. He was, he says, expected to protect the Boy Scouts safe, family-friendly brand above implementing measures—like an anonymous hotline number that boys could call to report abuse—that might actually keep kids safe.
“I went into Boy Scouts of America to do a job,” Johnson says in the film. “I went in there to help the organization to do a better job of keeping kids safe. I would say I had some success, even going up against the crap I had to deal with, but ultimately I failed.”
When the film’s director confronts the Boy Scouts’ former general counsel Steve McGowan with Johnson’s assertion that the Scouts are still not safe, McGowan replies that he is “shocked. Personally, [I’m] very disappointed. He never expressed that sentiment.” McGowan insists he and Johnson worked closely together and were in agreement with how safe the organization was. Johnson later responds: “I don’t know how else to put it—he’s lying.”
Johnson finally left the organization in 2020—several months after the organization filed for bankruptcy in the wake of tens of thousands of child sexual abuse lawsuits—and became a whistleblower on all the ways BSA had covered up its problem of sexual abuse and failed to prevent further abuse from happening.
In an interview for the Scout’s Honor press notes, director Knappenberger said, “Michael felt thwarted in his efforts to make the Boy Scouts safer. I believe he was frustrated by it, and they ultimately saw him as a way to gloss over the problem: ‘Go tell the public that we’re safe.’ And I think he couldn’t take it. He sacrificed a fair amount of severance and other things in order to come forward.”
The Boy Scouts of America ended its bankruptcy in April 2023 and is expected to pay $2.4 billion to over 82,000 sex abuse survivors, who say they were sexually abused as a child during Boy Scout-related activities.
Scouts Honor: The Secret Files of the Boy Scouts of America will begin streaming on Netflix on September 6.
If you or someone you know needs to reach out about sexual abuse or assault, RAINN is available 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE (4673), or online at RAINN.org.