One of the country’s most celebrated youth organizations for over a century, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is facing new scrutiny over its failure to out known child sex predators, to the detriment of thousands of victims. Once lauded by the likes of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Gerald Ford for instilling patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values in American boys, a new generation of parents may question whether the benefits are worth the risk.
Although membership has declined from its peak of 4 million to only 2.3 million, the BSA still remains one of the largest youth organizations in the country. With over 1 million volunteer leaders at the helm, new litigation has caused the public to question whether child sexual predators are still being enabled to commit unthinkable acts thanks to the BSA’s ongoing apathy towards the problem.
Boy Scouts of America “Perversion Files” show abuse dating back to 1920.
Almost a century of ongoing abuse at the hands of troop leaders has been documented in secret files maintained by the BSA since the 1920s. The internal filing system includes five categories of misconduct, including sexual misconduct, a.k.a. the ”Perversion Files”. The files are a smoking gun showing that BSA directors and leaders have known the disturbing extent of the organization’s troubles with molestation and sexual abuse.
In the fall of 2012, Perversion Files spanning a 20 year period up until 1985 were ordered released as part of the historic Lewis v. Boy Scouts of America case, filed in Multnomah County Oregon, by a former scout who eventually won $1.4 million in damages, and $18.5 million dollars in punitive damages, for BSA’s role in covering up his abuse at the hands of former scout leader, Timur Dykes. The case was a seminal moment in victims’ quest for justice; it peeled open the BSA’s facade of ignorance, showing that BSA had knowledge of its systemic problem of abuse dating back to the 1920s. Soon after, another group of internal files spanning from 1999-2008 was ordered released pursuant to a different court case.
Number of victims may top 180,000.
The most recent lawsuit filed against the BSA on August 5, 2019 details 350 individual offenders who victimized 800 men across the country. However, only two dozen of the offenders were previously listed on the BSA’s internal list. The suit alleges that the BSA continues to hide the magnitude of sexual predators amongst its ranks, as evidenced by the fact that only a fraction (6.8%) of the offenders identified in the suit were previously flagged by BSA leadership.
Expert witnesses examining the BSA’s internal files from 1944 to 2016 said they contained the names of 7,819 perpetrators who victimized 12,254 victims during the 72 year span. If, according to the August 5th lawsuit, only 6.8% of cases on average are flagged by the organization, the total number of victims over a 72 year period could top 180,000.
BSA helped cover up crimes, pleading with law enforcement to keep quiet “in the best interests of Scouting.”
Many cases of sexual abuse were done at the hands of admired community leaders, including teachers, church leaders, and police and sherrifs’ deputies. In case after case, victims describe being threatened and belittled by their leaders; they were convinced that no one would believe them. And oftentimes, no one did, or the assault was quickly covered up in elaborate schemes by well connected community leaders in the interests of protecting the good name of Scouting.
Furthermore, in a manner similar to franchising, the Boy Scouts of America has traditionally partnered with community organizations, including churches, fraternal groups, and service clubs, to serve as a charter for Scouting programs in their particular neighborhood or community. Each chartered organization takes charge over providing meeting space, leaders, and monitoring adherence with BSA policies and programs. As a result, powerful institutions, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Catholic Church, have remained tightly intertwined with BSA programs, as have their reputations. This has only served to drive up the stakes of the cover up, with the reputation of not only the Boy Scouts, but long-standing religious institutions and powerful church leaders at risk.
Why did it go on for so long?
In the aftermath of organizations like the Catholic church and Boy Scouts being scrutinized for sheltering child predators, many states have passed more permissive laws regarding the statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases. But up until recently, the time limits for filing civil and criminal complaints often protected offenders from being prosecuted or otherwise held accountable for their acts of abuse. As a result, with nothing to be gained, many victims have been dissuaded from coming forward about their abuse.
Sexual abuse against boys is also often underreported, as compared to female victims. According to a recent article in Time Magazine, medical experts who have testified in Boy Scout pedophilia cases explained that boys often process the trauma differently than girls. Men tend to feel more shame than women for being powerless to protect themselves. In addition, some men may avoid coming forward for fear of homophobic associations and ostracization. As a result, men tend to disclose instances of abuse and assault at a much later age than women.
New law in New Jersey extends timeframe for filing sexual abuse claims.
The names of 52 former troop leaders in New Jersey accused of sexual abuse was disclosed this past April as part of a group of attorneys’ efforts to seek justice for victims. And in the August 5th lawsuit filed by victims, 20 of the 350 perpetrators hail from New Jersey, as well. In light of recent changes to New Jersey’s statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases, victims who once thought they had no recourse may now be able to file claims and seek justice for the abuse they suffered.
If you were a victim of child sexual abuse and are ready to hold your abuser accountable, contact John E. Keefe, Jr. for a confidential and free consultation.