Where have we heard this before? An organization known for hierarchy, homophobia, and a self-presumption of moral and religious superiority is revealed to have a long history of protecting sexual predators and covering up their crimes.
Last month, the Boy Scouts of America were 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:
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.
The jury then went on to award the plaintiff, Kerry Lewis (no relation), $18.5 million in punitive damages. 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. The Scouts knew they had a sexual predator in their midst, and didn't prevent him from having access to potential 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.
The Mormon church won't be required to make any payments, because it already reached a settlement with Lewis. But this is about much more than this single case. 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.
Others who suffered such 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 have 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. Perhaps the biggest news reported in the article is that the Scouts have kept confidential files of such cases, while this was possibly only the second time ever that a jury got to see them.
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.
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.
And one former Scout employee, reading about the Lewis case on the Internet, 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.
Last week, The Oregonian's Les Zaitz and Nicole Dungca got access to some of the secret files:
Secret files obtained by The Oregonian from 1971 to 1991 contain no record that Scout leaders alerted authorities to adults suspected of child abuse in at least 11 instances in Oregon.
In all, 46 people were booted from Scouting in Oregon in those years, most based on police or media reports of suspected or proven cases of child molestation.
Scout leaders insist they take appropriate measures to protect children.
Appropriate measures apparently usually meaning to ignore the crimes and protect the criminals until the police or media find out, at which point the Scouts finally expel the perpetrators. As explained by one of the jurors in the Lewis case:
"We were trying to send a message," said Margaret Ormsbee, one of the jurors. "It seemed to most of us they were putting their PR and reputation above children's safety."
A reputation for moral rectitude that now proves to be institutionalized moral turpitude. The Scouts did create a program that was supposedly designed to protect kids from sexual abuse. But it was voluntary. And no records were kept. And they've never bothered to assess how much it is used or if it works. In other words, it was a false front.
With The Oregonian so thoroughly investigating this story, the Scouts did schedule an interview, requesting written questions that they said they would answer. But a day before the interview was supposed to take place, the Scouts canceled both it and the written response. Instead, they gave The Oregonian a statement of their own version of events. Oregon Scout executives were similarly opaque.
Another Oregonian article, by Zaitz and Dungca, found more evidence that the Scouts just didn't care to deal with the problem:
The Scouts ignored their own experts' advice to study and learn from thousands of confidential files on abusers.
They seemed to think that by continuing to pretend the problem doesn't exist, it will just go away. At least in the legal sense.
"They never said once that 'We have a problem,'" said Margaret Ormsbee, one of the jurors. "It felt to jurors that maybe they weren't taking this seriously."
The Scouts face another ten lawsuits, just in Oregon. And they told The Oregonian, on Thursday, that they will begin requiring that any adults who will be around Scouts must attend youth protection training. Which is good. But for it to take this lawsuit and these public revelations to motivate the Scouts to take this step is a bit odd, given the organization's pretense of valuing discipline and responsibility.
"The biggest thing is that even in 2010, things were not mandatory," said Ormsbee. "Even after 60, 70, 80 years of kids being abused, it's still not strictly mandatory."
The Scouts have extensive records dating back to the 1920s. Thousands of files. They claim that opening the files would have a negative effect on efforts to protect youth. Which, given their long history of not protecting youth, is a transparent excuse. The only negative effect they really fear is what will happen to their own reputation. What deserves to happen to their reputation. What likely will happen to their reputation, as the Lewis case inspires more lawsuits to go forward. And if they won't willingly open those thousands of files to the public, some legal entity should force them to do so. The names of innocent victims can be redacted.
"We saw a lot of cases from the '60s and '70s where they were reported as abusers. In the 1990s, they're still there," Ormsbee said. "We're wondering why they were not kicked out."
There's no wonder at all. Self-righteous hierarchical organizations that institutionalize bigotry often deem themselves above the normal rules, not to mention the law. And lots of people suffer for it.
In closing, it's worth noting that many people have gotten great value out of Scouting, and there are members of this blog community who would not be the wonderful people they are, if not for the positive role Scouting played in their youthful development. But there is a rot at the core of Scouting. Establishing mandatory programs that will better protect children is a good step. But it is far from being enough.
The Scouts need to figure out what it is about their culture that allowed them to systematically ignore such horrendous behavior, and to protect the perpetrators rather than the victims. For decades.