The Boy Scouts of America have concealed sexual abuse that has pervaded the institution and helped sex offenders avoid prosecution for more than 70 years, a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Santa Barbara Superior Court alleges.
That information needs to and will come out, said attorney Tim Hale, who is representing the minor plaintiff in the civil suit. The boy was one of three victims of Al Stein, who early last year pleaded no contest to two counts of child abuse. Stein, now 32, was a Scout leader and volunteer. He’s now serving his sentence in Avenal State Prison and is registered as a sex offender.
But the larger issue, according to the lawsuit, is that policies and guidelines from the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have allowed people like Stein to prey on young boys. “For decades Scouts have been a favorite target of pedophiles who join the organization for the sole purpose of gaining easy access to new victims,” the lawsuit says. The BSA has had a long history of abuse within its organization. According to news reports, at least 1,151 scouts have been abused by leaders in only a 19-year span.
Earlier this year in Portland, Oregon, attorneys representing a man who was molested by a Scout leader in the 1980s uncovered documents from a confidential BSA file — dubbed the “perversion files” — which tracked Scout leaders who were suspected of molesting young boys. It was the first time such documents, kept from 1965-1984, had been revealed. Lawyers for BSA said the files helped Scout leaders keep pedophiles and sex offenders from being involved with the organization, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. The victim in that case was ultimately awarded $18.5 million in punitive damages by a jury.
“They need to identify when a report was made, when they reported it to law enforcement, and if they didn’t, to do it now.”
While that case took revelations to a level they had never before reached, Hale says all of the information should be out in the open. “It all needs to come out right now,” he said. “They need to identify when a report was made, when they reported it to law enforcement, and if they didn’t, to do it now.” Keeping the records private, it is alleged, is a public nuisance, and the general public needs to know that information. Hale made a name for himself in going after the misconduct of some of Santa Barbara’s Franciscan priests and, in a similar fashion, exposing information and documents previously kept out of the public eye.
BSA, in response to the allegations, sent The Independent a statement: “Providing the safest possible environment for youth is of paramount importance to the Boy Scouts of America. Certainly, we take these allegations very seriously.” The group is “always reevaluating and reassessing its policies to provide the most secure environment possible for our youth members,” and requires youth protection training for all of its more than one million registered volunteers.
But its policies are precisely the problem, according to the boy’s suit, which also alleges negligent infliction of emotional distress. In its training, according to the lawsuit, BSA identifies parents, neighbors, friends, babysitters, and older boys as possible threats, according to the lawsuit, but there is no reference to Scout leaders or volunteers. This gives parents a false sense of security and lulls many not to see the risk posed by these men. “While warning their volunteers of the importance of protecting Scouts from abuse, those volunteers, not to mention Scout parents and the general public, had no idea that Scouts were and are at a heightened risk of being sexually abused by pedophilic wolves seeking to infiltrate the organization and wrap themselves in the sheep’s clothing of the Scouts’ leadership and other volunteer positions,” the lawsuit reads.
Furthermore, according to the complaint, BSA has guidelines that encourage parents to report abuse to a Scout executive rather than law enforcement. The guideline comes with a “warning that a false report may result in a defamation lawsuit against the reporting party,” decreasing the likelihood that a parent will make a report to anyone, including law enforcement.
The parents made a report to Scout leadership, which told the parents “not to make a report to law enforcement because the Boy Scouts would investigate the allegations.”
That’s what happened with Stein. After Stein allegedly fondled the victim and made ongoing inappropriate sexual comments to him, the victim told his family. The parents made a report to Scout leadership, which told the parents “not to make a report to law enforcement because the Boy Scouts would investigate the allegations.” But the victim’s parents insisted and notified law enforcement.
The suit alleges BSA leaders should have recognized Stein’s behavior early on, but failed to take away his authority until the plaintiff reported the abuse. As early as 1995, according to the complaint, Stein was shown not to fit in with other Scouts and had emotional problems or mental disabilities. Throughout the years, the suit says, Stein would engage in inappropriate behavior, including sitting children on his lap, making sexual jokes about children’s genitals, and pulling down the pants of scouts.