Today’s New York Times reports that more than 82,000 individuals report having been sexually abused in the Boy Scouts.
That’s staggering. That’s supposedly more child sex crimes than in the Catholic church (though solid numbers about predators and victims is notoriously hard to come by.)
To what can so much abuse – and so many victims stepping forward – be attributed?
At least some answers to the first question – why so much abuse – are clear
–Predators surely were tempted to become scout leaders because of the countless opportunities for close contact with kids. Hikes, camp-outs, sleepovers tended to happen in small, often two-person tents in remote locations. And few passersby would find it odd or troubling to see an adult scout leader with his hand on a boy’s leg teaching him to bandage a cut or on a boy’s waist showing him how to stand properly when shooting an arrow from a bow.
–Young men can become scout leaders (or more often, assistant scout masters) at the age of eighteen.
–The requirements and time frames to be given scout leadership posts are much less and much quicker than in other occupations near kids (teachers, ministers, police officers, etc.)
–Many parents prod socially inept or shy or unpopular kids into joining the Scouts, the precise kinds of youngsters who are most vulnerable to predators.
–There are more scoutmasters and assistant scoutmasters in the US than there are priests (According to Wikipedia, there are roughly 2.7 million scouts in troops across the US overseen by 800,000 volunteer adult leaders)
So why so many victims stepping forward now? Several reasons:
–The Catholic abuse and cover up crisis spawned groups like SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which showed many adults (men in particular) that there’s no real shame in having been fooled and violated by a trusted adult.
–The #MeToo movement, though largely involving women, has given many permission to re-examine abuse they suffered and to speak about it and take action.
In particular, the Scouts’ bankruptcy
–has virtually no time constraints (so claimants can and do go back decades and decades).
–is set up so that sexual abuse is broadly defined – so for example scout leaders who exposed themselves to youngsters or showed them pornography (even without physical touch) are included.
-attracts, because of its nationwide scope, very large law firms who are accustomed to mass tort cases (like pharmaceuticals and product liability cases) which have done widespread advertising and effective marketing.
But of course all the hard work and advertising in the world would be meaningless if not for the brave victims who are looking inward, summoning their strength, picking up the phone, sharing their pain, and seeking help from independent sources.
So we at Horowitz Law applaud every one of the 82,000 men and women who have so far helped shine a healing light on abuse and cover ups in this widespread, once-universally popular organization.
If we may offer some advice to these courageous scout survivors. Get organized! Look to the inspiring work done by Catholic survivors who’ve gotten together under the banner of SNAP, an extraordinarily effective group. For more than 30 years, SNAP’s volunteer local leaders, mostly survivors themselves, have pushed for statute of limitations (SOL) reform in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, Colorado, New York, Delaware, Missouri, Guam, Hawaii, Washington DC and elsewhere.
They’ve publicly denounced backsliding on SOL laws in states like South Dakota.
They’ve also advocated for state RICO laws and tougher mandatory reporting laws.
They’ve written parole boards urging that predators be kept behind bars.
But perhaps most valuable of all: They’ve provided a safe, welcoming and inclusive place for deeply wounded individuals to band together and get healing. They’ve given frustrated survivors a productive, safe outlet for their pain and anger.
And they’ve made a huge difference for kids.
But only because they’ve been smart and persistent and joined forces.
We at Horowitz Law hope survivors in scouting and other institutional settings do likewise.