The Boy Scouts of America faces a “pedophilia epidemic,” according to a lawsuit filed this week by a group of lawyers who say they have uncovered 350 previously unannounced cases of Scout leaders involved in abuse of children.
Some of the leaders are still eligible to be involved in Scouting despite the Boy Scouts’ attempts to oust bad actors, according to the lawyers, who formed the group Abused in Scouting to gather more information on the scope of the problem.
They said they have heard from 800 people this year who claim to have been victimized over the decades, and they have identified at least 350 Scouting leaders whose names aren’t on the Boy Scouts’ list of ineligible volunteers. They believe there are many others who remain unknown.
“The Boy Scouts don’t protect children,” Stewart Eisenberg, one of the attorneys, said Tuesday as they announced the lawsuit in the District of Columbia. “When a young boy is in the woods looking to become a leader himself and he is taken advantage of by someone he looks up to — that is a crisis that affects that young boy’s life. He suffers day in and day out.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a 57-year-old man, identified in the case by the initials S.D., who says he was sexually abused by an assistant scoutmaster in Troop 100 “hundreds of times” in the 1970s, when he was 12 or 13.
In the lawsuit, filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, the man says the scoutmaster who targeted him “actively groomed young boys under his charge for later sexual molestation.”
He claims he was subject to hundreds of instances of fondling, oral sexual assault and repeated attempts of anal penetration while at a Boy Scout retreat in northeastern Pennsylvania and at his abuser’s house.
The lawsuit names the national Boy Scouts, the local Penn Mountains Council Scouting organization and the accused scoutmaster as defendants.
The Boy Scouts of America said it takes abuse reports seriously and has already taken action on more than 120 cases based on information from Abused in Scouting.
The organization said it also has heightened its response to abuse allegations with background checks to prevent predators from joining their ranks, a help line to report abuse and “youth protection education” for members.
“We believe victims and remove individuals based on only allegations of inappropriate behavior,” the Boy Scouts said in a statement. “We steadfastly believe that one incident of abuse is one too many and we are continually improving all of our policies to prevent abuse.”
The Boy Scouts has acknowledged it has kept detailed files, known as the ineligible volunteer files, documenting known pedophiles within its ranks. Over the past decade, most of those files have become public.
The Boy Scouts organization has faced allegations of abuse in the past, settled dozens of lawsuits over the years and paid out millions of dollars.
In one case, the Boy Scouts was ordered to pay $18.5 million to one former member in 2010. It was believed to be among the highest punitive awards for a plaintiff in a child abuse case. A $12 million judgment in a case in Connecticut was later tossed by the state’s top court.
The Washington Times ran an extensive series in the 1990s on Scouting and sexual abuse and concluded that the organization was a “magnet for men who want to have sexual relations with children.”
“Pedophiles join the Scouts for a simple reason: it’s where the boys are,” The Times concluded.
Decades later, the lawyers who filed the latest lawsuit say the Scouts still don’t have a grasp of the situation.
“It is apparent that the Boy Scout defendants continue to hide the true nature of their cover-ups and the extent of the pedophilia epidemic within their organizations because the vast majority of the new victims coming forward involve claims of abuse at the hands of pedophiles who are not yet identified by the Boy Scouts of America in their publicly released Ineligible Volunteer Files,” the lawsuit says.
That volunteer file has been maintained since 1919 but was shielded from the public for decades, the lawyers said. That allowed leaders ousted from one troop or Scout council to volunteer at another one.
Abused by Scouting says it has heard from victims ranging in age from 14 to 88, with the largest concentration in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
The lawsuit said the national and local Scouting organizations are liable because they knew of problems in general yet didn’t warn parents or Scouts of the dangers.
“You can’t trust the Boy Scouts of America to weed out the bad apples because they haven’t,” said Tim Kosnoff, another lawyer involved in the case.
The lawyers said they are worried the Boy Scouts will try to duck responsibility by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The lawyers also called on Congress to get involved. They said the Boy Scouts is subsidized by the government through free access to facilities at military bases and public lands, access to surplus military equipment and a subsidy from the Department of Agriculture.
“Step up, Congress, and do your job,” Mr. Kosnoff said. “If you can’t protect kids, then what good are you?”
Mr. Kosnoff said the lawyers have reported the alleged abusers to law enforcement but only one agency — the Colorado Bureau of Investigation — responded to their claims.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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