A Portland jury will decide whether the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America put children in danger by keeping the history of sexual abuse in the Scouts secret.
The plaintiff in the case was abused by his scoutmaster 25 years ago and is asking for $29 million in damages. Amelia Templeton reports.
It’s a rainy Saturday in Portland. Brian Rapp’s seven-year-old son just joined a local Cub Scout troop.
Today they are visiting the Boy Scouts Cascade Pacific Council headquarters on important business.
Brian Rapp: “He’s like been bugging us now, 'when am I going to get my uniform, when am I going to get my uniform?' He’s just so excited about it, so that’s what we’re getting, we’re getting his uniform.”
Rapp says he hopes Cub Scouts will give his son a feeling of community.
Brian Rapp “He likes the same activities I used to like.”
The Scouts say their mission is to prepare young men to make ethical choices during their lives. A trial in Portland has raised questions about choices the leadership of the Scouts made dealing with the sexual abuse of children in their programs 25 years ago.
At that time, Boy Scout Troop 719 was sponsored by the local Mormon Church, and supervised by a church bishop. In 1983, according to depositions, assistant scoutmaster Timur Dykes confessed to the bishop he had molested 17 boys.
At least one family pursued charges with the police. Dykes was placed on probation and told to stay away from kids. But he continued to volunteer at scouting events.
Kelly Clark is the plaintiff's attorney.
Kelly Clark: “They knew that their charismatic assistant scout leader Timur Dykes, to whom kids flocked like bees to honey, had admitted to molesting 17 Scouts, including Cub Scouts”
In closing arguments Thursday Clark argued that by allowing Dykes to stay involved, and by only selectively informing the parents in the troop of the allegations, the Boy Scouts were negligent.
As a result, he argues, his client was abused by Dykes at least five times about a year later.
Charles Smith is an attorney for the Scouts. In the organization’s defense he said it was common sense to handle the situation with some secrecy.
Charles Smith: “Everyone would know in that congregation who was in that scout troop. And how do you think those boys would have felt going to school the next day?”
In his closing, Smith suggested the abuse was handled as a church matter and not a Scout matter. The Mormon Church used to be a defendant in the case, but church leaders settled a year ago.
Steven English was the attorney for the Mormon Church.
Steven English: “The church admires the Boy Scouts as an institution but there is no question in the church’s minds that the Boy Scouts have independent rights and obligations to determine who they want to be involved in scouting.”
The scope of the plaintiffs' allegations reach beyond what took place in Portland in the 1980s. They argue that by the 1970s, national Boy Scout leaders knew they had an institution-wide problem of child abuse. But the plaintiffs say they didn’t inform local troop leadership or Scout families about the problem.
The basis for that claim is contained in six boxes of confidential Boy Scout files that have been entered into evidence in the case.
The files show that between 1965 and 1985, national leaders decided about 1600 adults were unfit to volunteer in the program. About 70 percent of those adults were kicked out due to sexual misconduct.
Dr. Gary Schoener was an expert witness for the plaintiffs. He described the files.
Gary Schoener: “Clearly they had a problem. You don’t create a system unless you have a problem.”
Attorneys for the Scouts argued that the files effectively kept out pedophiles. The plaintiffs say keeping that information secret was reckless. They are asking for $29 million in total damages.
Patrick Boyle is the author of a book on abuse in scouting. He says the Scouts have settled other similar cases and worked hard to keep these files out of the public eye.
Patrick Boyle: “They contain sensitive details about victims, molesters, families, but also the corporation. Giving you an idea of what the corporation knew and what it did or did not do about it.”
The Scouts faced dozens of lawsuits in the late 80s and through the 90s. Today, sleepovers at scoutmasters’ homes are explicitly forbidden. And the Scouts have created training materials on abuse.
National Scout officials declined to comment on this story beyond courtroom testimony, citing a request from the judge in the case.
Portland Cub Scout dad Brian Rapp hadn’t heard much about the trial. But he did note that when he read the Cub Scout handbook, there were passages about sexual abuse.
Brian Rapp: “I just got the little Cub Scouts for the boys and I started leafing through it. On the first pages, I believe — there are things about adults — it mentions it right there. I was like, wow, why is it here?”
The case is now with the jury.