BOY SCOUTS ACCUSED OF HIDING ABUSE INCLUDING LOCAL CASES: LAWYERS URGE VICTIMS TO SPEAK OUT, PROTECT THEIR LEGAL RIGHTS

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By Miriam Raftery

August 7, 2019 (San Diego’s East County) – A  new lawsuit alleges that Boy Scouts of America (BSA) covered up names of some sexual abusers, the Washington Post reports. In a press conference this week, attorneys from Abused In Scouting say that researchers have found 350 names of suspected pedophiles were left of a blacklist with some 5,000 names previously made public. Both lists cite alleged abuse cases in our region including San Diego, El Cajon, La Mesa, Mount Laguna, Palomar Mountain and Poway.

“We as a group can start to change things and make sure that the next generation of kids does not have to suffer the way they did,” says San Diego attorney Van Arsdale  with AVA Law, a local firm that is one of three law firms nationally working with Abused in Scouting. 

He spoke at a press conference in Washington D.C. this week. Abused in Scouting has a searchable database by area and by troop. Attorneys for alleged victims say their clients range in age from 14 to 97. The most recent suit, filed in Pennsylvania, alleges a young teen scout, now an adult, was sexually  abused hundreds of times and suffered serious depression as a result, NBC reports.

Attorneys anticipate the Scouts could file for bankruptcy since insurers have refused to cover payments in some abuse cases, claiming Scouts could have taken preventive actions.  If bankruptcy is filed, a judge would set a strict cut-off date for future suits alleging abuse, as assets are divided up to pay off debts including any settlements or court wins in abuse cases already filed. That means that “these criminals may never be known by the public which is a safety concern for all,” attorney Stewrat Eisenberg states on the AIS website.

Statutes of limitation may also limit some filings, though a bill in Sacramento proposes to raise the maximum age for filing lawsuits over childhood sexual assault from 26 to 40, or within five years of discovering harm from the abuse.  Some 400 lawsuits have already been filed.

The Los Angeles Times compiled and published the earlier list in 2012, using court records and other documents. The “Ineligible Volunteer” files, since renamed the “Volunteer Screening database,” included hundreds of cases never reported by the Boy Scouts to authorities—instead urging alleged abusers to resign without disclosing the reasons. The Scouts fought in court to keep those names secret, arguing that confidentiality was important to protect anyone falsely accused as well as privacy of victims.

A researcher hired by the Scouts reportedly identified 12,254 victims and 7,819 suspected abusers spanning 1944 to 2016. In at least 125 cases, molestation of Scouts continued by leaders previously reported to Scouts for alleged abuse, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in May.

The Boy Scouts organization, statements issued to the Los Angeles Times and other media, has voiced regret over handling of some past cases by local troops but maintains there was no national intent to cover up allegations that range from child molestation to rape.

“We care deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting,” a statement to the Times reads, adding, “We believe victims, we support them, we pay for counseling by a provider of their choice, and we encourage them to come forward.”

The Boy Scouts has also indicated it has changed procedures in recent years to protect boys enrolled in its programs. These measures include mandatory reporting to law enforcement and criminal background checks for scout leaders, including 120 men reported to law enforcement by the Scouts.  

Scouts maintain these changes have been effective. Last year, there were only five known cases of sexual abuse. There are currently 2.4 million Boy Scouts in the U.S. and nearly 1 million leaders, according to the organization’s website.

Some Troops did take steps, even years ago, to protect boys from abuse, as well as protect Scout leaders from potentially false charges. One former local Scout leader has told East County Magazine that at his troop in East County, Scout leaders were prohibited from being alone with any child except their own. That included camping trips as well as meetings such as at a Scoutmaster’s home to review progress toward earning merit badges, when a family member of either the Scoutmaster or the child was required to be present.

The Scouts have gone through more major changes. Several years ago, a court ruling found Scouts’ prohibition against gay scouts and scoutmasters to be unconstitutional, so the organization became more inclusive in its admissions. Recently, for the first time in its 100 year history, Boy Scouts of America began admitting girls as well s boys. The Scouts BSA programs for girls are separate from the long-standing Girl Scouts of America organization.

The BSA programs promise “fun, adventure, learning, challenge, and responsibility to help them become the best version of themselves” in its year-round programs.  

Full disclosure: ECM editor, the author of this report, has a son who was an Eagle Scout and her husband is a former Scoutmaster.