Wednesday :: Apr 14, 2010

Landmark Verdict: Boy Scouts Of America Liable For Sexual Abuse

by Turkana

Where have we seen this before? An organization that claims to be doing the work of God, and that has a history of homophobic bigotry, has been found complicit in enabling and covering up the sexual abuse of children. The Boy Scouts of America have been found liable in a case of sexual abuse that is being compared to the scandal that is rocking the Catholic Church. As reported by The Oregonian, yesterday:

A Multnomah County Circuit Court jury found this morning that the Boy Scouts were negligent and awarded non-economic damages of $1.4 million to a man who was sexually abused as a Scout in the 1980s.

Punitive damages will be determined in a second phase of the trial.

Nine out of the 12 jurors found Boy Scouts of America and its local body, the Portland-based Cascade Pacific Council, negligent in the lawsuit brought by plaintiff Kerry Lewis, who is now 38.

The Scouts will appeal, and are attempting to distance themselves from the man who committed the abuse. The problem is that they weren't distanced. They knew they had a sexual predator in their midst, and they didn't prevent him from having access to more potential innocent victims. As explained by the Associated Press:

A former assistant Scoutmaster, Timur Dykes, acknowledged in early 1983 that he had abused 17 Boy Scouts.

But despite the admission to a bishop for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsored the Scout troop, Dykes continued to associate with Lewis and other Scouts. Lewis' parents did not learn the truth about Dykes until a police officer made a routine traffic stop during a camping trip and discovered that Dykes had a record, and arrested him in front of Lewis and other boys.

And the Wall Street Journal:

The jury found the church 25% responsible for negligence, but since it had already reached a cash settlement with Mr. Lewis, the church won't make any additional payment after Tuesday's verdict.

In a separate article, The Oregonian's Aimee Green writes:

Legal experts say Tuesday's verdict against the Boy Scouts by an Oregon jury could have a snowball effect in much the same way high-profile molestation suits against the Roman Catholic Church had early on.

They say the $1.4 million verdict could spur more former Scouts who were victims of sexual abuse to file suits.

As often happens to victims of such abuse, Lewis has struggled with drug addiction and problems forming personal relationships. In the next phase of the trial, he will be seeking $25 million in punitive damages. His attorneys say the Boy Scouts systematically covered up pedophilia for more than fifty years; but other victims of abuse now know there is precedent for their cases to be heard and taken seriously, and for justice to be served.

Although the Boy Scouts of America has been sued at least 60 times since the mid-1980s, no other Scout sex abuse trial has garnered such intense scrutiny coast to coast and had such potential to damage the Boy Scouts' brand, said Patrick Boyle, the leading national expert on the issue and the author of "Scout's Honor: Sexual Abuse in America's Most Trusted Institution."

This may be but the tip of the iceberg. The article says most such lawsuits had been settled out of court, and that obviously contributed to what Boyle says has been the Boy Scouts' success in keeping such cases largely out of the spotlight; but that now could change. The article says the Scouts had kept confidential files of such cases, but this was possibly only the second time ever that a jury got to see those files.

Lewis' attorneys, Kelly Clark and Paul Mones, argued that the Scouts repeatedly failed to warn parents and boys even though the files -- dating to at least 1925 -- prove the organization knew it had a problem. In Lewis' case, his attorneys said assistant Scoutmaster Timur Dykes was allowed to continue to associate with the program even though he confessed in January 1983 to Bishop Gordon McEwen. McEwen was the bishop of a Southeast Portland ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and coordinator of the ward's Scouting program. Lewis testified Dykes molested him in 1983 and 1984.

Another Oregonian article, by Green:

The Scouts, Clark said in opening statements, knew it had pedophiles in its organization yet allowed Dykes and others to continue to associate with its members. He held up file folder after file folder from Boy Scout headquarters that he said proves the organization knew of at least 1,000 suspected child molesters from 1965 to 1985.

"Those decisions led naturally, predictably and foreseeably to the abuse of boys like" my client, he said.

The Scouts claimed it was a larger, societal problem that wasn't specific to the Scouts. In other words, everyone's doing it, so why blame us?

And in another article by The Oregonian's Green, the comparison to the Catholic Church scandal becomes even more explicit:

The files offer an exceptionally rare glimpse into the Scouts' inner workings -- showing that the Scouts themselves knew the organization had attracted scores of pedophiles, and providing ammunition to critics who see the Scouts as discriminatory because of their antipathy toward gays and those who don't profess belief in God.

The victim's mother testified that the Scouts never warned her that Dykes already had confessed to having abused 17 other boys. Her son had been troubled, and thought he had found a mentor, in a man already known to be a sexual predator. He subsequently went on more than thirty campouts with the predator. He was molested four times at the criminal's home, and once at his own. One former Scout employee heard of the case on the Internet, then used his own money to come to Portland, so he could testify about similar examples of the Scouts covering up similar crimes.

The bottom line, as reported by The Oregonian's Lynne Terry:

A specialist on sex abuse told a Portland jury Wednesday that the Boy Scouts of America knew more than any other organization about offenders within their own ranks but failed to inform parents -- or go to law enforcement -- to prevent more boys from being abused.

"They realized they had a problem, and they created a system to deal with it," said Gary Schoener, a certified psychologist in Minnesota who has advised churches and other nonprofits nationwide about the abuse of authority. "You don't create a system if you don't have a problem."

And that system was similar to the system devised by the Catholic Church: cover up the crimes, protect the criminals, and allow more innocents to be victimized. By another organization that ostracizes the non-religious and discriminates against gays. Thanks to the courage of Lewis, this organization, too, may soon be seeing its hypocrisy, cruelty, and criminality becoming widely known, and its complicity brought to justice.

Turkana :: 11:53 AM :: Comments (4) :: Digg It!