Pennsylvania Boy Scout sex abuse lawsuit could be first of many
A Philadelphia sex abuse lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America could be the first of hundreds, according to Abused in Scouting, a coalition of law firms created to pursue cases of sexual abuse.
The organization has a list of more than 540 alleged instances of child abuse, including more than 350 that the law firms say have never been publicly disclosed by Boy Scouts officials. The list features 36 cases from Pennsylvania, including 10 in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Most of the incidents are decades old.
The Tribune-Review will not publish the names of accused scout leaders because most have never been charged with a crime or named as defendants in a lawsuit.
“These claims are still viable, even if they happened 30 or 40 or 50 years ago,” said Stewart Eisenberg, a Philadelphia lawyer who is one of the leading members of Abused in Scouting.
In the case filed Monday in Philadelphia, an unidentified plaintiff alleges he was sexually assaulted hundreds of times by a scout leader in the 1970s.
Abused in Scouting said this case is not an isolated incident but rather part of a nationwide pattern of abuse and cover-ups.
“A lot of changes need to be made, and it might not even be possible,” Eisenberg said. “It might be that the Boy Scouts need to close down because children aren’t safe.”
Boy Scouts of America says it has taken steps to protect current scouts and report past abuses.
“We care deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting,” the organization said in a statement. “We believe victims, we support them, we pay for counseling by a provider of their choice, and we encourage them to come forward.”
Boy Scouts of America has investigated the incidents on the Abused in Scouting list and reported about 120 of them to law enforcement, the organization said.
The Abused in Scouting list includes incidents from Latrobe, Ligonier, Pittsburgh and Braddock, among other locations in the region.
Martin Barbie, scout executive for the Boy Scouts Westmoreland Fayette Council, said he arrived in this area in 2008 and does not have information on the decades-old allegations. He directed further questions to the national council.
The Laurel Highlands Council, which oversees scouting in Allegheny County and much of Western Pennsylvania, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Abused in Scouting list is based on reports it has gathered from clients. The organization has been scouring the country for former scouts, running television ads urging victims of abuse to come forward and “help put a stop to the cover up,” the Washington Post reported.
In 2012, an Oregon court compelled Boy Scouts of America to release its secret “perversion files,” which included the names of thousands of scout leaders who were quietly dismissed from the organization for allegations of sexual abuse, including hundreds in Pennsylvania.
In April, University of Virginia professor Janet Warren testified in court that she had been hired by the Boy Scouts to study its files and she found more than 8,000 leaders accused of sexual abuse, the New York Times reported.
In December, the Wall Street Journal reported Boy Scouts of America was considering declaring bankruptcy to curb the rising legal fees it faces because of the sexual abuse lawsuit.
That report stepped up the urgency for Abused in Scouting, Eisenberg said. If Boy Scouts declares bankruptcy, it could limit victims’ ability to seek financial recompense.
“The Boy Scouts of America is working with experts and exploring all options available so we can live up to our social and moral responsibility to fairly compensate victims who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting, while also ensuring that we carry out our mission to serve youth, families and local communities through our programs,” the organization said in its statement.
Eisenberg said Pennsylvania made a good staging ground for Abused in Scouting’s first lawsuit.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania ruled in June that a woman’s sex abuse-related lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown could continue even though the two-year statue of limitations had long passed.
This opens the door for lawsuits against other organizations accused of covering up sex crimes, Eisenberg said.
Boy Scouts of America has established numerous protection measures over the decades, a volunteer screening database, mandatory youth protection education for volunteers, criminal background checks for scout leaders and other protection measures for children. Eisenberg does not believe it’s enough.
“If a pedophile wants to abuse a child, they have every ability to do it today as they did 50 years ago,” he said. “They might be a little bit more careful, but when children go into the woods and are alone with adults who are child abusers, the risk is still there.”
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter .