Boy Scouts failed to stop hundreds of previously unknown sexual predators, lawsuit says
(Tony Gutierrez | AP Photo) This Feb. 4, 2013 file photo shows a meal pin on a Boy Scout's uniform in Irving, Texas. Under pressure over its past problems with child sex-abuse, the Boy Scouts of America defended its current prevention policies on Wednesday, April 24, 2019 and said there were only five known victims in 2018 of out roughly 2.2 million youth members.
For more than a century, “Scouting has stood for adventure, excitement, and leadership,” the Boy Scouts of America wrote in its 2018 report to Congress. But for thousands of Scouts, their experience within the organization was one of abuse, fear, and guilt because of a proliferation of sexual predators
that operated within the organization for generations.
For decades, the Boy Scouts organization has kept detailed files, known as the ineligible volunteer files, that documented thousands of pedophiles known to have preyed on children. In the past decade, a large tranche of the documents became public through lawsuits and investigative reporting.
But those records are incomplete, according to a lawsuit filed on Monday as part of a larger effort to hold the Boy Scouts accountable for abuse perpetrated within its ranks.
A group of lawyers says it has uncovered hundreds of previously unreported cases of sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Pennsylvania. The plaintiff in the case, identified as S.D. to keep his identity private, is alleging that he was assaulted "hundreds" of times by a scout leader in Pennsylvania over the course of about four years in the 1970s.
The litigation stems from an attempt to unearth previously unreported cases of child sexual abuse in one of the country's most prominent youth organizations, led by Abused in Scouting, a group of law firms that collaborate on bringing such cases to light.
Included in S.D.'s lawsuit is a claim that Abused in Scouting has identified more than 350 people who do not appear in the ineligible volunteer files, S.D.'s alleged abuser among them.
The lawsuit alleges that S.D.'s abuse would not have been possible had it not been for the negligence of the Boy Scouts, that the organization conspired to keep instances of sexual assault a secret, and that the organization and other defendants engaged in "reckless misconduct" in not protecting its young participants.
The complaint filed on Monday names the Boy Scouts, the Penn Mountains Council, and S.D.'s alleged abuser, and was filed in Philadelphia's Court of Common Pleas.
"BSA knew for decades that sexual predators of boys had infiltrated scouting," the complaint says, and claims that the organization "knew or should have known the dangers" that pedophiles, including S.D.'s alleged abuser, posed to children.
S.D.'s ordeal began in approximately 1974 or 1975, when he was 12 or 13, according to the lawsuit. He says he was the victim of an assistant scoutmaster who "actively groomed young boys under his charge for later sexual molestation," the lawsuit says. S.D. was allegedly subjected to "hundreds of instances of fondling, hundreds of instances of oral sexual assault and repeated attempts of anal penetration" at Camp Acahela, a Boy Scouts retreat in eastern Pennsylvania, as well as at his abuser's home, the lawsuit says.
Requests for comment sent to phone numbers and emails associated with the alleged abuser were not immediately returned.
S.D. has "had tremendous effects from the abuse," said Stewart Eisenberg, S.D.'s representative and one of the lead lawyers from Abused in Scouting. "This is the first time he's ever come forward. He's held it in for all those years."
Over the past several months, Abused in Scouting has gathered hundreds of allegations from around the country from males - as old as 88 and as young as 14 - who say they were assaulted or harassed during their time in the Scouts. The Washington Post reviewed a partially redacted spreadsheet, compiled by Abused in Scouting, containing details of more than 500 cases of abuse.
Spurred by reports that the Boy Scouts organization was considering Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which would narrow the window in which victims could be compensated, Abused in Scouting began gathering information from alleged victims in the spring. (In a statement, the Boy Scouts would not confirm any plans to file for bankruptcy but said it "is working with experts and exploring all options available.")
"We feel it's an opportunity for those who were abused in scouting to come forward, to tell their story, to help themselves, and more importantly, to help others," Eisenberg, said at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday.
Abused in Scouting ran television ads throughout the United States, asking people who had not previously reported to "protect tomorrow's children, identify your abuser, and help put a stop to the cover up" in the Boy Scouts by contacting the lawyers.
S.D., now 57, came forward after seeing one of those advertisements.
"Once the phones started ringing, they have not stopped," Andrew Van Arsdale, another leading attorney with the group, said on Tuesday.
Tim Kosnoff, a lawyer with Abused in Scouting, told The Post that they have forwarded the allegations they compile to the Boy Scouts, with the accusers' names redacted, so the organization can report the abusers to law enforcement as its policy requires.
In a statement to The Post, Boy Scouts of America said it had made about 120 reports to law enforcement based on information provided to them by Abused in Scouting. The organization says it has been communicating with Abused in Scouting as the group files reports, but Abused in Scouting's lawyers on Tuesday said they had only received one such notice.
"We care deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting," the Boy Scouts said. "We believe victims, we support them, we pay for counseling by a provider of their choice, and we encourage them to come forward."
"The BSA has taken significant steps over many years to ensure that we respond aggressively and effectively to reports of sexual abuse," the statement continued. "We recognize, however, that there were instances in our organization's history when cases were not addressed or handled in a manner consistent with our commitment to protect Scouts, the values of our organization, and the procedures we have in place today."
The organization pointed to use of screening efforts and background checks to prevent abusers from joining its ranks. The group also provides "youth protection education" for members and bar one-on-one-interactions between adults and children. The Boy Scouts has a helpline where participants can report abuse.
In January, it was revealed that an internal review of ineligible volunteer files from 1946 to 2016, led by Janet Warren of the University of Virginia, had so far identified 12,254 victims and 7,819 perpetrators in documents. The revelation came as Warren testified in a court case involving a children's theater company, and caused a stir when another lawyer who handles abuse cases, Jeff Anderson, publicized her testimony at an April news conference.
"You can't look at these files and do the math and come away with any other conclusion that this was a massive problem that was successfully kept hidden from the very people that needed to know this," Kosnoff said on Tuesday.
Abused in Scouting lawyers hope an increase in public concern about sexual assault - spurred by the #MeToo movement and investigations into other high-profile organizations such as the Catholic Church and USA Gymnastics - encourages Boy Scout victims to share their stories so "the next generation of kids did not have to suffer the way that they did," Van Arsdale said.
The group also implored Congress to investigate.
Most of the alleged assaults in the database of new cases viewed by The Post happened decades ago, though Abused in Scouting says it has a 17-year-old client.
It is not unusual for victims to come forward later in life, according to Camille Biros, a lawyer who has overseen compensation funds for victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Many victims she has worked with came forward in their 50s or 60s, and had not previously shared their stories.
"There are many people who are ashamed, embarrassed, who don't even want to attempt to report this," she said. "I can't tell you the number of grown men that just start weeping. They start telling the story and think they'll be OK, but they just break down and sob."
For the men who decide to share their stories, money is rarely the primary motivation for finally coming forward, Biros said.
"They are looking for the acknowledgment that this actually happened to them," she said. "Validation for the wrongs that are inflicted upon them."
The average age at which victims of childhood sexual assault choose to disclose abuse is 52, according to the think tank Child USA.
This year, laws changing the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases will go into effect in 18 states and the District of Columbia, according to Child USA, giving victims of childhood abuse a new opportunity to seek legal recourse.
“We’ve never seen a year like this before,” said Marci Hamilton, Child USA’s founder and chief executive. “I don’t think the public is prepared for this tsunami of information about hidden child sex abuse in our culture.”