A DIRTY SECRET: In a lawsuit with national implications, a Santa Barbaran says he was sexually abused at the age of 13 by an area Boy Scout leader, and accuses national Scout officials of a long-standing cover-up of thousands of cases.
“For 70 years, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has concealed from the public the fact that sexual abuse has pervaded the institution,” hiding from parents the fact that their children were and still are at heightened risk of being targets of “pedophilic wolves,” Santa Barbara attorney Tim Hale charged in a Superior Court suit.
The plaintiff alleges that he was abused in 2007 as a member of Goleta Scout Troop 36 and that Scout officials were negligent in not taking action against Scout leader and volunteer Al Steven Stein, despite many earlier red flags and warning signs of his inappropriate behavior.
The lawsuit had a hole knocked in it recently when Superior Court Judge James Brown tossed out claims of fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress, saying that while the claim of negligence could proceed, the plaintiff would not be able to collect punitive damages.
“We thank the court for its careful consideration of this case and appreciate the court’s recognition that neither the BSA nor the Los Padres Council knew or should have known that individuals targeted leadership positions in the Boy Scouts to access child victims for sexual assault,” reads the official statement issued by the BSA national office. “The abuse of anyone, and especially children, is abhorrent and intolerable, and BSA extends its sympathies to any victims and their families. The protection and safety of youth is of paramount importance to our organization, and we continue to advance our youth protection efforts.”
The suit follows a landmark case brought by six men in which the Boy Scouts of America and others settled a Portland abuse lawsuit last year. Amount of the settlement, which included punitive damages, was not disclosed but apparently was in the millions.
BSA has maintained thousands of secret “perversion files” detailing child molestation cases, involving up to 20,000 scouts abused by leaders during 1965-85 alone, and perhaps 100,000 since 1925, attorney Hale said.
“It terrifies me to think of the number of perpetrators about whom the organization received reports of abuse but never reported to law enforcement,” Hale emailed me.
“They’re unidentifiable to the public as sexual predators, ticking time-bombs really, all because the organization never reported them to law enforcement and thus prevented them from being prosecuted and having to register as sex offenders.
“In trying to save the organization from short-term scandal-related embarrassment, the BSA has unwittingly done long-term harm to itself, harm that can only be repaired by adopting transparency when it comes to the history of abuse within scouting,” Hale said.
The BSA says that the “secret” files, which it terms the Ineligible Volunteer Files, are solely to prevent those deemed ineligible from becoming Scout leaders: “Recent efforts have sought to make the Ineligible Volunteer Files public and suggest that the BSA is trying to hide something by maintaining their confidentiality. That is far from the truth.”
The BSA defense is that the case is only about Stein’s actions and that the history of abuse within the organization has nothing to with it, Hale said. The BSA lawyers could not be reached for comment.
“Stein initially was sentenced to probation, but then violated it and was shipped off to prison,” Hale said.
Stein, now 33, pleaded no contest to charges that he abused the plaintiff and a second Troop 36 scout. He registered as a sex offender, but his whereabouts are unknown, Hale said.
“Stein initially was sentenced to probation, but then violated it and was shipped off to prison,” Hale said. Since Stein’s release, his whereabouts are a cause of great stress, and the family remains concerned about retaliation,” Hale told me.
“It’s already happened. After my client’s mother reported the abuse to scout leadership, they warned Stein, who promptly turned around and confronted my client about reporting the abuse. The fact that Stein is now out there, somewhere, is a source of continuing trauma.
“For at least 50 years, the Boy Scouts have covertly removed child molesters from leadership and other volunteer positions at the alarming rate of one perpetrator every two or three days and maintained thousands of secret files on such men,” Hale said in the lawsuit.
“The Scouts’ failure to properly train volunteers, coupled with the Boy Scouts’ hierarchy’s failure to warn such volunteers of the fact that Boy Scouts have been and continue to be a favorite prey for perpetrators within the organization, has left volunteers and parents woefully unaware of the danger” and “ill-equipped to recognize warning signs often exhibited by perpetrators who pose a threat to children,” Hale said in the suit.
Although Stein was noted to have emotional problems and mental disabilities as early as 1995, warnings signs of his inappropriate conduct with children began to appear in 2002 when “he was observed repeatedly bouncing another troop leader’s young son off his stomach and was told to stop.
“In approximately 2005, defendant Stein was observed with the 12-year-old daughter of a troop leader sitting on his lap, conduct to which the girl’s mother objected.”
In a foreshadowing of things to come, he allegedly began pulling down the pants of scouts and making sexual comments in front of parents and scouts. After a series of events involving the plaintiff and other boys, said Hall, including compelling a 10-year-old boy to disrobe so he could photograph his genitals, Stein “sexually assaulted plaintiff, pulling down the boy’s pants and fondling him.”
When the plaintiff’s parents reported this to Scout leaders, they were told not to make a report to law enforcement because the Scouts would investigate the matter, Hale said. Nevertheless, the parents made a report.
The plaintiff, according to the lawsuit, “has suffered, and continues to suffer, great pain of mind and body shock, emotional distress, physical manifestations of emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, disgrace, humiliation and loss of enjoyment of life and continues to suffer spiritually.”
The suit does not specify the amount of damages sought.