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13
Sep
2011
Boy Scouts face more sex abuse claims in court Cases in Oregon and Montana

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Four Oregon men plan to sue the Boy Scouts of America on Tuesday over childhood sexual abuse they say they suffered at the hands of a pedophile knowingly appointed as their scoutmaster in the 1970s, their lawyer said. The lawsuits, to be filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court in Portland, accuse the national Boy Scouts of negligence and fraud in connection with the repeated molestation of the men, then aged 12 to 15, their lawyer, Kelly Clark, told Reuters. The suits are the latest in a barrage of such claims facing the Boy Scouts, headquartered in Texas, since the organization was found liable and ordered to pay nearly $20 million in damages last year for a pedophile case from the 1980s.

Clark and his co-counsel, Paul Mones, brought a separate case against the Boy Scouts last week on behalf of five women who claim they were sexually abused as girls by the leader of a coed Scouting program in Montana during the 1970s. The Montana suit and the impending cases in Oregon bring to at least 35 the number of individuals who have lodged child sexual abuse claims against the Boy Scouts of America in 11 states since 2007, Clark said.

The group cites new safeguards instituted during the past decade, including tighter screening of its volunteers, though it acknowledges that criminal background checks for existing volunteers only became mandatory in 2008. Clark said publicity from last year's trial in Portland prompted hundreds of former Scouts to contact his law firm. He likened the "domino effect" of that case to the tide of allegations against Roman Catholic priests in the United States triggered more than a decade ago by reports of clergy abuse that surfaced in the Boston Archdiocese. "What these institutions have in common is the sense that their mission is important and that they can't afford to have their good works sullied by what they consider isolated incidents," Clark said.

Last year's trial shed light on records the BSA kept on suspected or confirmed sexual abuse by leaders and volunteers. The jury was permitted to review 20,000 pages from what were termed the "perversion files" or "ineligible volunteer files," dating from 1965 to 1985 before rendering a verdict. The lawsuit claims the BSA was aware since the 1960's that “scouting posed a danger to adolescent boys because historically noticeable numbers of adult volunteers...were discovered to be child molesters.” Those files show that during the 20-year period, an average of nearly 60 leaders or volunteers a year were discovered molesting children, Clark said. The Boy Scouts dispute that figure, and the organization is fighting to keep those documents from being made public in a case awaiting a ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court.

All four bringing suit in the new case claim they were abused in the 1970s by then-scoutmaster Steven Terry Hill, who was put in charge of their troop even though the Boy Scouts learned he had been accused of molesting three other boys while serving as a Scout leader in California, Clark said. The plaintiffs also allege that the Boy Scouts organization became aware that Hill was molesting boys in Portland's Troop 76 but did nothing to stop it, according to Clark. Hill was acquitted in the late 1970s of sex abuse charges related to the Boy Scouts in Portland. But he was convicted in 1991 on four counts of sodomy and furnishing drugs and alcohol to a minor stemming from an unrelated sex-abuse case involving a 17-year-old boy. He was released from prison in 2011 after serving 20 years, Clark said. A deposition Hill gave while incarcerated, and other corroborating evidence, suggests that the California Scouts council arranged for him to be transferred to Portland where, in 1976, he founded Troop 76, an elite group of 76 scouts whose mission was “high adventure” activities like river rafting and mountain climbing, Clark said.

James Hopper, a clinical psychology instructor at Harvard Medical School, said it is not unusual for adults to wait many years to reveal sexual abuse from their childhood, especially for males, who may feel greater shame from their ordeals. "You have stories of abuse emerging from the Catholic Church and other institutions; now it's the Boy Scouts' turn," he said. Clark said “You don’t have to be trained or anything. You just show up and raise your hand and swear and you’re a volunteer.” “So while the percent of volunteers in the Boy Scouts who were abusers is, we believe, much smaller, the numbers are relatively large, and the number of victims could be the same or worse (than in the Catholic church)”.