SANTA BARBARA, Calif. » The sexual abuse of a 13-year-old Boy Scout by an adult volunteer was part of a "sordid history of child sexual abuse" within the organization that has been documented internally for nearly a century, the victim’s attorney said Monday in his opening statement at a civil trial in California.
The Scout, now 20, has sued the Boy Scouts of America and a local scouting council for punitive damages after being molested by a volunteer leader in 2007. He claims in his negligence lawsuit that the Scouts failed to educate, train and warn parents and adult volunteers about the dangers of sex abuse.
His attorney, Tim Hale, won the right to draw from more than 30 years of "perversion" files kept by the Scouts as evidence at trial to support those allegations. The files cleared for use by Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Donna D. Geck include 16 years of documents — from 1991 to 2007– that have never been seen before.
Hale told the jury that when the case is over they will receive a CD of 100,000 pages of files to review and will be the first people in the U.S. outside Scout leadership and attorneys to see the documents.
Hale said in his opening remarks that the Scouts recorded between 9,000 and 10,000 such files between 1920 and 2007. An attorney for the Scouts put the number at 7,500; the discrepancy wasn’t explained.
"The Boy Scouts of America has a long and sordid history of child sexual abuse committed against young Scouts . committed by Scout leaders and that timeline goes back, the files show, until at least the 1920s," he said.
"What has not been going on is notice to the public and notice to (the plaintiff) and his parents," the lawyer added.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit testified later in the day that he suffered a bruise and a laceration in the assault at a Christmas tree lot and still suffers from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
He returned to the lot with a hidden tape recorder several days later to try to get a confession and was partially successful, he said, when the volunteer asked the teen if he had told his mother.
"It was a 13-year-old’s word over a Scout leader, an adult," said the victim, who remained composed on the stand. "He was someone people looked up to."
The plaintiff later quit his beloved game of baseball, stopped hanging out with friends and stayed in his room. He eventually began home schooling because he saw the volunteer sitting in a car outside his high school about five times as the criminal case proceeded.
"I felt scared. I felt like he was coming after me," the victim told jurors, adding that he threw up once in public when he unexpectedly saw the man.
The victim’s name is being used in court, but The Associated Press does not generally name victims of sexual abuse.
An attorney for the Boy Scouts said in his opening statement that the "perversion" files were created to keep children safe by maintaining a master list of people ineligible to volunteer with the Scouts.
The organization acknowledges mistakes in the way sex abuse allegations were handled in the past but now has a robust child protection program, attorney Nicholas Heldt said.
From 2003 to 2007, a key period for the lawsuit, only 27 adult volunteers were kicked out annually for sexually abusing Scouts, although there were at least 1.5 million volunteers nationally, he said.
When the plaintiff was abused, the youth protection training worked because the boy recognized the abuse, resisted and told his mother, Heldt said. She, in turn, told local Scout leaders who informed law enforcement.
"This case is about training and whether training would have made a difference," he told jurors.
"I think this is a case in which the one instance of sexual abuse against (the plaintiff) could not have been prevented, and it wasn’t prevented," he said. "But the training program may have helped prevent the second or the third instance of sexual abuse."
The records allowed by the judge could reveal how much the national organization has improved its efforts to protect children and report abuse after several high-profile cases sparked the youth protection policy in the late 1980s.
Previous large verdicts against the Scouts focused on cases where alleged abuse occurred before the policy was put in place.
In 2012, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the Scouts to make public a trove of files from 1965 to 1985. The records showed that more than one-third of abuse allegations never were reported to police and that even when authorities were told, little was done most of the time.
The current lawsuit alleges that Scouts volunteer Al Stein, now 37, pulled down the plaintiff’s pants when he was 13 and fondled him while the two worked in the Christmas tree lot.
Stein pleaded no contest to felony child endangerment in 2009 and was sentenced to probation. He served time in prison after authorities discovered photos of naked children on his cellphone.
Under the judge’s ruling, records that Hale does not use in open court will remain sealed.
After trial, the plaintiff’s counsel and other interested parties can petition the court for the release of all the files.