After a hard fought jury case tried by SGT attorneys Paul Slager and Jennifer Goldstein, a Waterbury, CT, jury awarded a former Boy Scout more than $7 million in compensatory damages for the sexual molestation and assault he suffered in the mid-1970s at the hands of a Boy Scout youth leader. The jury found the organization was negligent, reckless and in violation of Connecticut’s unfair trade practices law in failing to use the vast archives of information it kept secret about sexual abuse in its Boy Scout program to take reasonable steps to keep Boy Scouts safe. The compensatory damage amount is the largest known in the history of cases against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in its 104-year history. After calculation of attorneys’ fees and interest, the total award to SGT’s client is more than $12 million. This is the latest of multiple cases Slager has successfully litigated against the BSA on behalf of child survivors of sexual abuse in scouting.
This trial involved a child who was victimized by an older youth leader in his troop. John Doe joined the Boy Scouts in the mid-1970s when he was about 11-years-old. His abuser was an older Scout in the troop who held the position of Scout Patrol Leader, which meant he was invested with significant authority by the Boy Scouts to lead and control the activities of the younger boys in the troop.
The abuse took place on several occasions when John Doe was 11-12 years old.
Slager said his client has led a very difficult life as a result of the abuse he endured as a child. John Doe dropped out of the Boy Scouts after the last occasion of forced sexual contact. His grades plummeted, his relationship with his family fractured and he began using drugs and alcohol. He has struggled with substance abuse, legal problems and relationship issues ever since the time of his sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts. The feelings of shame and guilt he carried prevented him from telling anyone about the abuse for more than 30 years.
“He managed now to come forward in a very courageous way and talk about this in a public forum,” Slager said. “And as a result, the jury found that the Boy Scouts of America were culpable in allowing this to happen to him as a child.”
The startling evidence in the case revealed that since at least the 1920s the BSA has kept secret “Perversion” or “Confidential” Files (“Files”), later termed “Ineligible Volunteer Files,” on volunteers in the BSA program who sexually abused young Boy Scouts within its ranks. For many decades, these files were kept strictly confidential so that local troop leaders, parents of scouts, scouts themselves and even the official local councils of the BSA had no idea the vast collection of files existed at the Boy Scouts’ national headquarters. The files also demonstrated that the national Boy Scout organization knew many scout leaders were serial abusers and that national Boy Scout executives were complicit in keeping information about sex abuse in scouting hidden from the public.
The original idea behind creating the Files was laudatory: to identify and remove volunteers in the Boy Scouts program who had sexually abused Scouts from their current positions and to keep a database of their names and the details of their abuse to prevent them from trying to re-register subsequently as Boy Scouts volunteers in a different place and troop.
However, the BSA kept the Files in a vast wall of locked filing cabinets in a locked room in its Dallas, TX, corporate headquarters. Only a handful of BSA employees who were charged with maintaining the Files knew of their existence.
By the time John Doe joined the Boy Scouts in the late 1970s, the Files numbered in the thousands. Each File reflected one sexual abuser — but the total number of Files did not indicate the total number of boys abused because many of the Files indicated that a single sexual abuser could — and did — abuse multiple boys. Some files introduced into evidence in this trial show instances of the sexual abuse of 10, 20 and even 34 boys by a single Boy Scouts volunteer.
This case exposed the BSA’s failure to use this treasure trove of information — which no other youth organization in the world had at the time or even since — to take reasonable steps to respond to this information in ways that would have protected the boys in scouting programs. During the trial, Slager urged that such steps should have included educating and training Scouts, their parents and the local troop leaders and regional councils themselves on how to identify and resist a sexual predator; on what to do if someone touches a Scout inappropriately; on how it was important — and not shameful — to tell a responsible adult if it happened; and on how to seek appropriate therapy and other help afterwards.
Eventually, in the late 1980s, the BSA implemented a formal Youth Protection Plan that trained leaders, parents and scouts themselves about how to prevent, recognize and respond to child sexual abuse. The existence of extent of the Files themselves, however, remains a closely guarded secret, one that was exposed in graphic terms in this trial.
In the trial, SGT attorneys Slager and Goldstein also introduced evidence showing that BSA was aware that senior youth scouts sexually abused younger Scouts during scouting activities. Notes in the Files make it clear that not only was the BSA aware of this, but that it made a conscious decision NOT to collect or release any data on sexual abusers who were under the age of 18.
BSA holds itself out as a paradigm of integrity, leadership and honor. Instead of acting in accordance with its stated values, however, SGT’s attorneys argued – and the jury by its verdict found – that the Boy Scouts concealed explosive information it had about sexual predators in its midst and failed to use that information to take reasonable steps to keep the children in its program safe.
The unique focus in this case (versus other cases against the Boy Scouts that have failed) is that this case was not seeking to hold the BSA responsible for the actions of the sexual abuser. Instead, the plaintiff sought to hold the BSA responsible for its own actions in failing as an institution to use the treasure trove of information it possessed in constructive ways to protect young Boy Scouts from sexual abuse.
This decision is important not only to expose the actions of the BSA, but also to empower victims of sexual abuse to overcome their shame and guilt and to come forward. In this case, the BSA suggested the plaintiff’s claims of abuse were not credible because he did not come forward with the reports until much later in life. In the midst of the current national conversation about the corrosive effects of shame and guilt that sex abuse survivors carry for years, even decades, this decision is also about the fact of the secrecy itself — about the damage that keeping such a secret can inflict over the course of a lifetime.
*The content of this page has not been approved by the Court nor does it constitute legal advice. It is for the purpose of providing general information only.