Abuse in Scouting - Consumer Justice Foundation

Abuse in Scouting

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Almost since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has been aware of accusations of sexual abuse involving Scoutmasters, Scout leaders, volunteer and employees. Attorneys are now investigating lawsuits against the BSA for failing to prevent child sexual abuse within its organization.

Thousands of former Boy Scouts have been victims of sexual abuse that they suffered as young members of the Boy Scouts of America, an organization that bills itself as a place where young boys can learn survival skills and the value of teamwork. For decades, the BSA has attracted and protected pedophiles who used their position of trust and leadership as Scoutmasters and Scout leaders to prey on and abuse vulnerable children. Much of this abuse was never reported to the authorities, and in cases where the abuse was reported, little was done to protect the victims or other Scouts from new or continued abuse perpetrated by the same predators. If you or someone you know suffered sexual abuse in Scouting as a child, you may be eligible for compensation through a sexual abuse lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America. There are new laws that make it easier for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse to pursue claims against their abusers and the institutions that allowed the abuse to occur, so don’t wait to call our consumer advocates to review your legal options.

Who is at Risk for Abuse?

The Boys Scouts prides itself on providing “the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training, which helps young people be ‘Prepared. For Life.’” Since its inception in 1910, more than 130 million boys and girls have participated in the BSA’s youth programs and more than 35 million adult volunteers have “helped carry out the BSA’s mission,” the website states. At its peak in the 1970’s, the Boy Scouts of America had more than four million Scouts. Today, that number has plummeted to roughly 1.8 million, due in large part to allegations of widespread sexual abuse surrounding the BSA and its volunteers and a growing number of child sexual abuse lawsuits. According to the lawsuits, not only was the BSA aware that sexual abuse was occurring within the organization, it was keeping records of the abuse for decades and taking steps to cover up accusations of child sexual abuse involving Scout leaders and employees. Between 1944 and 2016, there were an estimated 7,819 alleged child sex abusers within the organization’s ranks and more than 12,000 victims of sexual abuse or molestation.

Evidence of Sexual Abuse in Scouting

Because some of the accusations of child sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts of America date back to the 1940’s or earlier, many adult victims of abuse in Scouting have been barred from pursuing legal claims against their abusers due to strict statute of limitations laws in their states, which establish a time limit for bringing a claim of sexual abuse. In 2019, many states, including California, New York and New Jersey, extended their statute of limitations in order to make it easier for childhood victims of sexual abuse that occurred decades prior to pursue claims against their alleged abusers and seek justice for the abuse they suffered as minors. Among other things, New York’s new Child Victims Act:

  • Increases the amount of time perpetrators of child sex abuse or molestation can be held criminally accountable for their actions,
  • Provides abuse victims with previously time-barred claims an opportunity to pursue justice against their abusers by opening up a one-year window for new claims to be filed,
  • And allows victims of abuse in Scouting to pursue a civil lawsuit at any time before they reach 55 years of age.

Boy Scouts of America Sexual Abuse Perversion Files

The Boy Scouts of America has been aware of its history of sexual abuse for decades. In fact, the organization created a 14,500-page master list referring to instances of sexual abuse that occurred in the Scouts between 1959 and 1985. These so-called “perversion files” identify thousands of “ineligible volunteers” who had been employed by the organization and were suspected or accused of child sexual abuse or child molestation. And while the BSA claims that its goal was to keep children safe by maintaining this list of alleged child sexual abusers, many of the known abusers on the list were permitted to return to or remain working with children in the Scouts. In some cases, Scout leaders accused of sexually assaulting boys in one state were permitted to relocate and continue their abuse of young Scouts in other states.

Since its inception more than 100 years ago, the Boy Scouts of America has marketed itself to the American public as a safe and wholesome organization for young children, while concealing from Scouts and their parents the fact that pedophiles had been infiltrating the BSA in large numbers for years. Unfettered access to young, vulnerable children made the BSA attractive to pedophiles and child molesters, and by 1935, the organization had already removed more than 1,000 adult Scout leaders for sexually abusing young Scouts. In 2012, the BSA was ordered by a judge in a civil suit to make its perversion files available to the public. Those files were proof, one sexual abuse lawsuit stated, that the BSA “was continuously attracting pedophiles across time and geography.”

According to the Associated Press, “The files, [collected between 1959 and 1985], are a window on a much larger collection of documents the Boy Scouts of America began collecting soon after their founding in 1910. The files, kept at Boy Scout headquarters in Texas, consist of memos from local and national Scout executives, handwritten letters from victims and their parents and newspaper clippings about legal cases.” The BSA went to great lengths to keep the existence of the perversion files a secret, and in the early 1970s, thousands of the files were allegedly destroyed. To date, the exact number of sexual abuse incidents reported to the Boy Scouts of America is unknown.

BSA Covered Up Accusations of Child Sexual Abuse

One sex abuse lawsuit filed against the Boy Scouts of America in 2015 details “a long and sordid history of child sexual abuse committed against young Scouts” that has been documented internally by the organization since just after their founding in 1910, but kept from the public. Says the Associated Press, “At the time, those authorities justified their actions as necessary to protect the good name and good works of Scouting, a pillar of twentieth-century America. But, as detailed in the documents, their maneuvers allowed sexual predators to go free while victims suffered in silence.”

Not only did the Boy Scouts of America fail to report the ongoing sexual abuse or put a stop to it by making it public, the organization actually took steps to cover up accusations of sexual abuse by scouts against Scoutmasters, Scout leaders, volunteers and employees. “Again and again, decade after decade, an array of authorities – police chiefs, prosecutors, pastors, and local Boy Scout leaders among them – quietly shielded scoutmasters and others accused of molesting children,” the Associated Press reports. In doing so, the BSA and others allowed the abuse to continue for decades, endangering the safety of thousands of innocent Scouts over the course of nearly a century.

BSA Facilitated Continued Child Sexual Abuse

One Scoutmaster accused of abusing Scouts in Georgia, named Samuel Otts, allegedly received a severance from the BSA and was placed on an internal probation program while the organizations conducted a secret internal investigation. The BSA determined that Otts was “ineligible” to work with Scouts, but when the Scoutmaster moved to Arkansas, the organization failed to report his history of child sexual abuse to the authorities or inform parents there about the allegations against him. As a result of the BSA’s failure to report Otts’ child sexual abuse to the authorities or make his history of abuse known to the public, former Boy Scout William Stevens says Otts was allowed to move to Arkansas, become a Scout leader there and abuse him at least eight times between 1979 and 1980.

Victims of Abuse in Scouting Pursuing Legal Claims Against Their Abusers

The vast majority of child sexual abuse lawsuits against the BSA since the 1980s have been settled quietly by the organization and so the issue of abuse in Scouting has been kept largely out of the spotlight. However, thousands of former Scouts who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their Scout leaders or BSA volunteers or employees are finally getting their day in court and bringing the issue to the forefront of public attention, thanks to newly expanded child sexual abuse laws enacted in states across the country. The new laws have resulted in a flood of litigation by former Scouts who were allegedly sexually abused as minors and whose abuse was ignored or covered up by the Boy Scouts of America. The lawsuits accuse the organization of knowing about its problem with pedophiles for decades, continuing to give the pedophiles access to young, vulnerable Scouts, and failing to warn young Scouts and their parents about the risk of abuse.

Lawsuits Against the Boy Scouts of America

April 2010 – The BSA’s perversion files are shown to a jury in a civil suit in Oregon involving the abuse of six young boys by a Scout leader in the 1980s. The judge rules that, since the BSA’s files are evidence, they should be released to the public.

April 2010 – A Portland jury awards $1.4 million in compensatory damages and $18.5 million in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by a 38-year-old former Scout who was repeatedly molested by an assistant Scoutmaster when he was 11 or 12 years old.

June 2012 – The Oregon Supreme Court orders the BSA to make public their files from 1965 to 1985. The organization releases more than 14,000 pages revealing the alleged sexual abuse involving 1,247 Scoutmasters, Scout leaders, volunteers, and employees and more than 1,000 Scouts across the country. The files show that more than one-third of abuse allegations reported within the Boy Scouts of America were never reported to police.

August 2014 – A settlement is reached in a lawsuit filed by a former Scout who claims that a BSA troop leader sexually abused him for two years in 2004 and 2005.

January 2015 – The BSA settles a sex abuse lawsuit filed by a 20-year-old former Boy Scout who was molested by a volunteer Scout leader in 2007.

June 2018 – An Arkansas man files a sexual abuse lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America who claims that the organization allowed a Scout leader accused of sexually assaulting boys in Georgia to relocate and abuse him years later.

October 2018 – Fifteen lawsuits are filed against the BSA in Illinois, seeking millions of dollars in damages for years of sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by a former Scout leader between 1981 and 1989. The abuser was labeled an “ineligible volunteer” by the BSA back in 1971.

April 2019 – A New Jersey man who says he was abused by a BSA troop leader in the 1980’s at the age of 11 files a lawsuit seeking to force the organization to release files containing the names of Scout volunteers accused of sexual abuse.

April 2019 – Two former Scouts reach a settlement with the BSA days before a trial accusing the organization of covering up accusations of child molestation involving Scout leaders and volunteers in Idaho was set to begin.

April 2019 – The BSA issues a statement saying that they “care deeply about all victims of child sex abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting.”

December 2019 – Beginning in 2020, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which for decades has been the largest sponsor of Boy Scout troops, will discontinue its partnership with the organization and remove nearly 430,000 youth from the organization.

January 2020 – A Buffalo man alleges in a sexual abuse lawsuit that a Scoutmaster raped him on several occasions during the early 1970’s.

January 2020 – A lawsuit is filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. that would establish the capital as a common venue for sex abuse victims nationwide to bring claims against the Boy Scouts of America for allegedly failing to protect them from childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Scoutmasters and other Scout leaders. The eight plaintiffs in the lawsuit live in states with statute of limitations laws that would bar them from suing the BSA for abuse that occurred decades ago.

February 2020 – The BSA files for bankruptcy amid sex abuse lawsuits filed by thousands of former Scouts who have come forward with allegations of abuse perpetrated by troop leaders over the course of decades.

Why We Think Boy Scouts of America Should Be Held Liable for Abuse in Scouting

The Boy Scouts of America faces thousands of lawsuits filed by former Scouts who allege that they were molested or sexually abused by Scoutmasters, Scout leaders, volunteers and employees of the organization as children. Among other allegations, the Boy Scouts sexual abuse lawsuits contend that:

  • Scoutmasters and other Scout leaders sexually abused minors in their care
  • The BSA has known for decades that sexual predators existed within their ranks, yet avoided acknowledging the danger these pedophiles posed to young Scouts
  • Kept secret “perversion files” on men within the BSA who were known or suspected pedophiles
  • Made an effort to conceal reports of sexual abuse within the BSA
  • Failed to report instances of child sexual abuse to the authorities
  • Failed to prevent known abusers from rejoining the BSA
  • Put millions of Scouts nationwide at risk for sexual abuse

What should you do? If you were the victim of childhood sexual abuse as a Boy Scout, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss filing a sex abuse lawsuit.

Adult victims of childhood sexual abuse are at risk for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and other problems that could have been avoided had the victims been protected from sexual abuse by the BSA. If you or someone you love suffered sexual abuse as a Boy Scout, don’t hesitate to seek legal help. Contact our consumer advocates at the Consumer Justice Foundation today to find out if you may be eligible for compensation through a Boy Scouts sexual abuse lawsuit.

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