NJ law opens floodgate for sex abuse lawsuits against Boy Scouts
NEW BRUNSWICK — A lawsuit accuses the Boys Scouts of America of reckless decision-making during the organization's time headquartered in New Jersey, which the suit says perpetuated the repeated sexual assault of young scouts.
According to the complaint filed Tuesday in Superior Court in New Brunswick, BSA was a New Jersey corporation whose headquarters and principal place of business was located in North Brunswick from 1954 to 1979, including during the time that the four plaintiffs were sexually abused.
The complaint says the BSA had the right to control the means and manner of staffing, operation and oversight of any Boy Scout troop, Cub Scout troop or other troop when the four men were sexually abused as boys.
One victim says he was sexually abused by two adults affiliated with Boy Scouts between the ages of 12 and 15 while he was in Arkansas from 1973 through 1976.
The second man says was sexually abused from 1979 to 1981 at ages 12 to 14 in Indiana by two adults affiliated with Boy Scouts.
A third man says he was sexually abused while growing up in Wisconsin, from the ages of 13 to 17 years between 1978 and 1982.
According to the lawsuit, that abuser was “a known sexual predator of children” who other boys from the troop had previously reported to other adult leaders. "But BSA failed to take reasonable steps to prevent further abuse," the lawsuit says.
The fourth former scout was sexually abused as a 12 to 13-year-old in Texas by an adult with the Boy Scouts between 1977 and 1979.
Attorneys for the men say "reckless and negligent decision-making, acts and omissions" took place primarily in New Jersey, due to the location of BSA headquarters at the time. BSA now is based in Texas.
In a written statement, the Boy Scouts of America said that it cannot comment on specific allegations of litigation but highlighted their current policy on addressing allegations of abuse.
"We believe victims, we support them, we pay for counseling by a provider of their choice and we encourage them to come forward. It is the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) policy that all incidents of suspected abuse are reported to law enforcement," the organization said. The full statement is at the end of this article.
The suit was filed in a partnership between a Seattle-based firm, PCVA Law, and New Brunswick-based Rebenack, Aronow & Mascolo, months after New Jersey extended the window of time for sexual abuse victims to filed civil lawsuits against accused attackers and their affiliated organization.
“The BSA has largely succeeded in keeping the 'perversion' files hidden from the public, including Scouts and their parents. While not much is known about the files after 1985, the files that were not destroyed show that the BSA created at least 1,123 'perversion' files between 1965 and 1985 – an average of more than one new “perversion” file a week,” according to the complaint filed Tuesday.
The same files were referenced in an April 2019 lawsuit filed by an Atlantic County man who says he was sexually abused by his scout leader in the 1980s. Richard Halverson was the first victim to come forward following the release of the names of 50 Boy Scout leaders from New Jersey accused of sexually abusing minors decades ago.
Halverson's suit was aimed at forcing the Boy Scouts to release their entire Ineligible Volunteer Files.
The New Jersey names were already part of a 14,500-page report released in 2012 by the Boy Scouts of America. That report included names of Scout leaders from around the country linked to accusations between 1965 and 1985, though they were not identified by state or troop.
In May 2019, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation that extended the statute of limitations for filing civil lawsuits in New Jersey against alleged abusers and the institutions where they worked.
The law allows survivors to sue up until age 55, or within seven years after they clearly remember the abuse they endured, instead of by age 20 or within two years of remembering abuse.
The legislation also provides a two-year window to victims who previously had been prevented from filing civil suits because of the statute of limitations.
Statement from Boy Scouts
First and foremost, we care deeply about all victims of child abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting. We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our program to abuse innocent children. We believe victims, we support them, we pay for counseling by a provider of their choice and we encourage them to come forward. It is the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) policy that all incidents of suspected abuse are reported to law enforcement.
The BSA has taken significant steps over many years to ensure that we respond aggressively and effectively to reports of sexual abuse. We believe victims and remove individuals based on only allegations of inappropriate behavior. We recognize, however, that there were some instances in our organization’s history when cases were not addressed in a manner consistent with our commitment to protect Scouts, the values of our organization, and the procedures we have in place today.
The Boy Scouts of America is committed to fulfilling 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. Nothing is more important than the safety and protection of children in our Scouting programs – it is our top priority. The BSA has a multi-layered process of safeguards informed by experts, including the following, all of which act as barriers to abuse: a leadership policy that requires at least two youth-protection trained adults be present with youth at all times and bans one-on-one situations where adults would have any interactions alone with children – either in person, online, or via text; a thorough screening process for adult leaders and staff including criminal background checks, and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse.
The BSA also offers a 24/7 Scouts First Helpline (1-844-726-8871) and email contact address (firstname.lastname@example.org) to access counseling and help needed to report any suspected abuse or inappropriate behavior.
We steadfastly believe that one incident of abuse is one too many and we are continually improving all of our policies to prevent abuse. This is precisely why we fully support and advocate for the creation of a national registry overseen by a governmental entity, similar to the national sex offender registry, of those who are suspected of child abuse or inappropriate behavior with a child, thus allowing all youth-serving organizations to share and access such information. We call upon Congress and other youth- serving organizations to support this initiative.
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