New lawsuit alleges massive sexual abuse in Boy Scouts organization

While on my drive to California, many of the hotels I stayed at provided guests with copies of USA Today and the major story one day was a massive lawsuit brought by 800 people against the Boy Scouts of America for sexual abuse, with the accusations spanning nearly eight decades and covering almost every state.

Lawyers began collecting the accounts this spring as they prepared a suit, which they filed on behalf of a client who alleges his former scoutmaster plied him with drugs and alcohol before repeatedly sexually abusing him.

At a news conference Tuesday morning, the lawyers said they have nearly 800 other clients who were abused while Scouts. The suit says at least 350 abusers do not appear in the Boy Scouts’ disciplinary files, citing that as evidence that the organization has not adequately vetted its volunteers and hidden the extent of the sexual abuse scandal.

The law firm’s client list, obtained by USA TODAY, alleges molestation ranging from fondling to sodomy. Some of the men accused by former Scouts ended up in court or were punished administratively for similar crimes, sometimes many years after their alleged assaults. About two dozen of the men were kicked out of Scouting for abuse. USA TODAY is naming only those who fit one or more of those categories.

The accused tend to be men of stature in their communities, most of whom volunteered as troop leaders or assistant troop leaders. They were police officers and members of the military, teachers and a mayor, doctors and a child psychologist.

Their prominent positions offered them easy access to children. They allegedly caught their prey in tents and homemade shelters in the wilderness, in their cars shuttling young boys back and forth to Scouting activities, and sometimes in the children’s own homes.

Their access was unique to the Boy Scouts itself – at giant Jamborees and secretive Order of the Arrow ceremonies, isolated summer campgrounds and well-used church recreation halls. They’re accused of trading on the youth organization’s all-American wholesomeness to assuage parents who might not otherwise have allowed young boys to be alone with adult men.

You can be sure that for every person who has come forward, there are many more who are reluctant to speak out.

The article highlights the case of one adult troop leader Gary Stroup.

He was banned from Boy Scouts after being accused of groping 11-year-old boys in 1989. Yet he remained a member of the National Eagle Scout Association, according to a letter Boy Scouts sent to his council two years later, reminding them Stroup was ineligible as a Scout volunteer.

Stroup was indicted on seven counts of “gross sexual imposition” after the abuse allegations in 1989. Shortly after he was acquitted in early 1990, his lawyer again appealed his Boy Scout membership revocation and submitted 41 letters of support, including from the principal of Avondale Elementary School where he worked, the local scoutmaster and camp director, the parents of Scouts and the pastor of his Methodist church.

Another accuser, who is among the legal firm’s new clients, said that at the time the scoutmaster and camp director lobbied for Stroup to remain in the Scouts, Stroup was abusing him. From roughly 1988 to 1990, the former Scout said, he was molested at least 100 times while on camping trips, in Stroup’s car, at home, at church and at school. He said Stroup threatened that his brother and sister would be put into foster care if he ever told anyone.

In 2005, Stroup was indicted on multiple counts of sexually abusing children at two schools where he had worked. He entered a plea on two counts of gross sexual exploitation and was sentenced to four years in prison.

This is the problem with organizations like the Boy Scouts and the Catholic church. While many if not most of the people in those organizations are committed to providing wholesome experiences for young people, the very structure of these organizations tend to be magnets for abusers. If someone has pedophilic tendencies, they would undoubtedly be attracted to organizations that offer relatively unsupervised access to large numbers of young people.

It is up to the organizations to recognize this danger and put in place sufficient safeguards to vet the people, monitor the behavior of the adults, quickly act on reports of abuse, punish the abusers, and report them to the authrotiies. But what we have seen in both these organizations is a tendency to look away, deny, or cover up abuses. It seems like they were driven more by wanting to avoid any scandal than protecting the interests of the young people who were entrusted into their care. That is what is inexcusable.

On a related note, one of the highest ranking abusers in the Catholic church, cardinal George Pell has just lost his appeal against his conviction of sexual abuse for which he was jailed for six years. Pell was one of the pope’s closest advisors. But pope Francis has not as yet defrocked Pell, something that his critics have called for. But Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has said that Pell was likely to be stripped of his Order of Australia honor.


  1. Oggie: Mathom says

    You can be sure that for every person who has come forward, there are many more who are reluctant to speak out.

    One right here. And at least 5 others in my cub scout pack. I think someone reported it — the cub scouts pack fell apart late in my 5th grade year and he, and his family, moved quite rapidly to another part of the state. He was a well-respected government biologist, a Mormon stake-holder (possibly bishop (this was a long time ago and I remember way too many details of the abuse but not everything about him (including his name))). I knew — not in the details but in general terms — just how much trouble I would be creating in my life if I told anyone. I knew I wouldn’t be believed. And I failed. I failed to protect my fellow classmates, other kids (including one little girl), and any other kids he may have raped in the future.

    Good to see someone has the strength to go this route. I suspect most of us won’t.

  2. says

    And yet the loudest mouths still say atheists and LGBTQIA people are the threat to children. It’s almost if we shouldn’t trust anyone who wants to get involved in chidren’s activities voluntarily -- including parents.

    Maybe social conscription is the answer, like jury duty. Could unwilling people be any worse?

  3. jrkrideau says

    But pope Francis has not as yet defrocked Pell

    The Pope is a very old and very busy man. Pell is likely an annoyance or minor issue. Nasty but not priority.

    Also, one might have to consult canon law to see if he can easily defrocked Pell. Like the US system, the Roman Catholic legal system has some real peculiarities.

  4. says

    There ought to be no organizations with adults having authority over children where the adults are allowed to be alone with the kids. By now that ought to be obvious. Anyplace there are groups of kids, predators will circle around.

    Someone ought to design an audit protocol in which kids are asked to (annually?) fill out anonymously forms that say if there has been a problem or not. From there it’s statistics: if more than a percentage of kids report anything skeevy, then it’s because there’s something skeevy going on. Part of the problem with these organizations is that they are allowed to self-regulate; well that experiment did not work.

  5. says

    Marcus #4 -- Parental and independent watchers can help, as will eliminating situations where crimes could happen. Why do BSA groups need “sleepovers”? Though admittedly it’s much harder to monitor youth sports teams that travel -- the world doesn’t need another Graham James.

    My view on the Me Too movement and some male overreaction to it is Mistrust is not accusation. Others’ concern for their own safety or the safety of their kids isn’t an insult. I like the fact there’s a CC camera in my classroom. More than once I’ve had a kid say, “I wasn’t doing that!” (e.g. walking around, hitting someone, throwing things) and the staff refused to believe me until the checked the video. The camera isn’t a “violation of my rights”, a “false assumption” or “violation of my privacy”. It’s a needed protection both for me and the kids because I’ve been put in a position of trust. And as long as I’m telling the truth and behaving ethically, I don’t have to worry.

  6. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    > While many if not most of the people in those organizations are committed to providing wholesome experiences for young people,…

    This is key to the whole problem. The people who uphold and manage the BSA, the Church, the Police, all honestly believe in the basic goodness of their organization. And because they commit a part of their lives to the organization’s work, the organization’s integrity and meaning becomes psychologically identified with their own integrity and meaning. “As a Scoutmaster/Priest/Police officer/tenured professor I’m an important part of a good body and that makes me good as well.” It’s perfectly understandable and not necessarily a bad thing…

    …Until something goes wrong with the organization. When the organization turns out to be flawed, to be playing host to pedophiles or thieves or sadists or abusers, there’s a powerful motive to protect the organization: if the organization is evil, that makes me who identifies with it, who have put so much into it, evil as well.

    Unless the priest/scoutmaster/officer/professor is well trained and secure in their identity, their first reaction will be to deny, to look for excuses, to minimize, in order to protect the face of the organization which is in fact their own face. And if that isn’t enough, then to assume that the problem was localized to one bad person, to move that person, to patch things up, so they can go back to believing the organization is good. And when that isn’t enough, to make a public display of organizational response so as to make it clear the organization is capable of self-correction.

    I think this psychological dynamic — the dedicated member of an organization protecting the organization because their personal identity is bound up with it — explains almost everything about this BSA story, the on-going University sex-abuse scandals, the Catholic (and other) church scandals, police brutality cover-ups, and so on.

  7. blf says

    More than once I’ve had a kid say, “I wasn’t doing that!” (e.g. walking around, hitting someone, throwing things) and the staff refused to believe me until the checked the video.

    That reminds me of a point raised during some early-ish trials of police uniform cameras in Bristol, England (where I used to live, albeit I’d left before the trials). The system being trialed allowed the officers to show / replay what the cameras had recorded. They reported this was massively beneficial, as when a replay was shown to someone who was denying the alleged behaviour, the accused often admitted the officer / accusations were correct (or at least plausible). From memory, in the news reports I read, the police had the sense to use those admissions to urge / admonish, or in more formal cases, warn, the accused, rather than as a “confession”.

    What the situation / usage is now, many years, later, I do not know. (Unrelated, I think today I saw my first(?) police uniform camera in the S.France seaside village where I live…)

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    A friend who participated in the Boy Scouts almost a decade ago, in support of his kid who was a member then, told me that they had and strongly enforced a rigid rule that no adult was ever to be alone with a boy at any time for any reason.

    He thought it was a preventive regulation, rather than a remedy for a previous problem (for that troop, anyway), but felt it was much more stringent than the safety policies of any of the local churches they had attended.

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