Boy Scouts Changes its Tone on Sex Abuse

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A sex abuse lawsuit that ended with a nearly $20 million verdict against the Boy Scouts in April appears to have changed how the organization tries to prevent and respond to child molesting.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has settled lawsuits by six former Scouts in Oregon who say they were abused by the former leader who was the offender at the center of that verdict, the victims’ attorneys announced Wednesday. The total settlement amount was not disclosed.

It’s the latest of several changes made by the BSA since the Oregon verdict.

Just months ago, the BSA had rejected settlement offers in the suit by former Scout Kerry Lewis and forged ahead with a dramatic trial that brought weeks of sensational publicity, exposed the BSA’s confidential files about alleged molesters in Scouting, and led a jury to award Lewis $1.4 million for negligence and $18.5 million in punitive damages. It was the largest jury award ever in a sex abuse case against the Scouts.

Five more victims of the same abuser, former Assistant Scoutmaster Timur Dykes, were lined up with their own lawsuits filed by the same attorney, Kelly Clark, who won the Lewis case. Observers wondered if the harsh jury verdict in that case would encourage the BSA to settle the other lawsuits.

The BSA stood defiant after the Lewis verdict, issuing a statement saying, “We are gravely disappointed with the verdict. We intend to appeal.”

But in June, the BSA ordered all of its volunteers to go through training about sex abuse, after years of rejecting suggestions that it do so.

Then  in July, the BSA created a new full-time position of youth protection director, naming Michael Johnson, a former detective from Texas who has investigated child abuse and trained others in such investigations.

The BSA has not linked those changes to the trial. But Clark, one of the attorneys for Lewis, said Wednesday,  “These kinds of changes would not have occurred without this litigation; of that we are convinced.  The BSA is a safer organization than it was six months ago.”

Now comes the settlement with the six victims, including Lewis, who was in the mediation by order of the judge in the trial. For Lewis, 39, the settlement ends the stress and any uncertainty of an appeal.    

“We are glad this is over,” Lewis said in a prepared statement. “Three years of litigation has taken a huge toll on our lives.”

The BSA issued its own prepared statement that was striking for its change of tone, indicating that it wants to shake the cold corporate image that came across as it fought sex abuse lawsuits, especially during the Lewis trial.

In court statements and in earlier news releases, BSA’s comments about sex abuse have sounded like corporate public relations pronouncements, downplaying the problem of abuse in Scouting, expressing little or no sympathy for the victims and stressing the organization’s determination to move on with its great work. Victims have cited the corporation’s attitude as fueling their anger.

In contrast, yesterday’s BSA statement said:

“We are deeply saddened by the events in these cases. We extend our sympathies to the victims and are pleased to have reached a settlement which will both prevent these men from reliving their experiences during a trial and allow BSA to focus even more intently on the continued enhancement of our youth protection program.”

The include the BSA paying the state of Oregon $2.25 million in punitive damages, said attorney Clark.

From 1984 through 1992, the BSA was sued at least 60 times for alleged sex abuse by Scout leaders. During that time, settlements and judgments totaled more than $16 million. The two largest jury verdicts against the BSA appear to be a $4.2 million verdict in Oregon in 1987 and a $3.75 million verdict in California in 1991.

Earlier coverage about the history of abuse in Scouting and the BSA response is at Boy Scout Confidential.