TRIBECA 2022 REVIEW: ‘Leave No Trace’ (2022) Sheds Light on Sexual Abuse with Some Ethical Concerns

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“A powerful and heartbreaking documentary”

Irene Taylor’s Leave No Trace focuses on one of the most rampant cover-ups of sexual abuse allegations — that within the Boy Scouts of America. It is an intense documentary about a century-old organisation, which took steps to eliminate — for lack of a better word — and keep a close eye on, “ineligible volunteers”.  The documentary explores how the organisation’s lack of acknowledgement and responsibility led to decades of trauma for the victims of paedophiles in the community. It sheds light on and exposes the stories of sexual abuse faced by boys throughout the majority of their lives until they became adults haunted by their unresolved trauma. 

The documentary begins with two brothers appearing on camera to retell their traumatic stories for the first time. They fell victim to their scoutmaster between 2015 to 2017, and their stories are similar to those of every single victim, both old and young, who is interviewed. The older victims were able to move past the emotional scars and carry on with their lives, dealing with their trauma by lifting weights or hunting. But when the men talk about the abuse they had gone through from their scoutmasters, almost all of them break down in tears. The film explores the steps the organisation had taken to keep the “red list,” in which they kept a list of documented names of paedophiles who committed horrible acts involving the male children. Their stance on privacy and dealing with the cases internally, or “probation program” as they call it, offers them a second chance to ‘clean up their act’. But the documentary proves that this doesn’t and has never worked, as the scoutmasters who are accused of sexual abuse move on a new group of boy scouts and commit the same act. 

Even though Leave No Trace brings forward the organisation’s gross misconduct of the sexual abuse allegations and filing for bankruptcy after being hit with the thousands of dollars in lawsuits they couldn’t pay back to their victims, there are some ethical concerns. In the earlier interview featurettes where the two young boys are interviewed by the crew, they are silhouetted. While it is incredibly courageous of them to share their experiences on camera, Taylor chooses not to protect their identities. This decision may be debatable amongst some viewers, but the idea is that the boys have not fully healed from their trauma, and that is visible on screen. 

However, this isn’t the same for the older victims, who have used coping mechanisms to deal with their trauma. One of the victims revealed that when he heard his scoutmaster confess to the crime after he reported it to the police, the aftermath was very freeing to him. Even though these men had gone without telling anyone about their experiences, the documentary captures how traumatic they were, even years after what happened. This reveals how male victims of sexual abuse are less likely to come forward with their experiences until they are much older, due to society’s (and patriarchy’s) belief that young boys and men cannot be abused. 

Regardless of some ethical concerns, the documentary helps expose the paedophiles’ wrongdoings and, most importantly, an organisation that worked to sweep these allegations under the carpet. It shows that the victims have been slowly getting justice and the Boy Scouts of America reached a settlement of $2.7 billion over sexual abuse claims — the largest settlement in history. The full extent of the damage they caused can never be undone, and from what the film tells viewers, the organisation was more worried about its reputation than helping the victims. A powerful and heartbreaking documentary, Leave No Trace tackles an urgent and important topic for people to become aware of.