By Cara Kelley, USA Today
More than 200 individuals have come forward with new allegations of sexual abuse by members of the Boy Scouts of America in recent weeks as a trio of law firms seek to uncover unidentified child abusers.
A few of the victims are young, still underage or in their 20s, but many have held their secrets close for decades.
“Nobody would have listened to me,” said James Kretschmer, 56, who says a leader groped him at a Boy Scouts camp when he was in middle school. “The problem is, then you think, ‘Is it something I did? What was I doing, was it my fault? If I hadn’t done whatever, he wouldn’t have done that.’ It took me years and years to realize it wasn’t that little child’s fault. It was the adult who had control.”
Samuel, 17, said he was fondled by a leader a decade ago, who told him, “Don’t say anything.
“For awhile, I lived with those three words,” Samuel said. “That’s why I didn’t say anything.”
Advised by Tim Kosnoff, an attorney who has litigated more than a thousand cases of sexual misconduct against organizations such as the Scouts and the Mormon church, the group of attorneys said it has identified 150 alleged pedophiles never before publicly accused.
The law firms began running TV and Google ads encouraging victims to sign on as clients for a potential lawsuit after a report in December that Boy Scouts of America prepared for a possible Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. The volume already gathered could double the number of legal cases the organization already is facing, although a bankruptcy would halt existing and future litigation, the attorneys told USA TODAY.
In a statement about the new allegations, Boy Scouts of America said, “Any incident of child abuse is one too many, and nothing is more important than the safety and protection of children in our Scouting programs.”
Kosnoff and his colleagues said a bankruptcy filing would have a chilling effect on victims’ ability to expose predators who are a threat to their communities. The number of victims who have signed on since last month is evidence for the Seattle-based attorney that many more have yet to step forward.
“That’s proof that we’ve barely scratched the surface,” Kosnoff said. He added that FBI research has shown that each “perpetrator has over 100 victims over a lifetime of offending.”
Kenneth Rothweiler, a partner at one of the three firms, Eisenberg Rothweiler,said that only a handful of the new allegations are related to previously identified perpetrators. About 90%, he said, are new.
Kretschmer and Kendall Kimber, 60, are among those making their allegations public for the first time. They described a culture of shame and secrecy that kept them silent. That worry has not been erased over the years.
Kimber said he was abused by a leader who offered to help him prepare for the Order of the Arrow, an honor society within the Boy Scouts that he was invited to join. At the leader’s house, Kimber said, the man forced him to perform oral sex.
“He did that while he was talking to his mother on the phone,” Kimber said. “He had nothing about the Boy Scouts or about what I was doing on his mind.”
Kimber said he never went back to the man’s house and eventually quit the Scouts. He said he didn’t tell anyone about his experience until much later, when he learned his brothers were abused by the same man. One committed suicide, which Kimber said was tied in part to the abuse.
“I probably would have gotten kicked out” for coming forward at the time, Kimber said.
Kretschmer said his abuser was his psychologist through the Air Force base where his dad was stationed. He was a kid with attention issues, he said, which were less understood at the time.
Both men said they are speaking out now to help prevent future abuse.
“There are thousands of kids who may not have ever had this happen to them if people would have stood up and said, ‘No, no, no, we’re not tolerating this, we’re not allowing this to happen,’ ” Kretschmer said. ” ‘There may be a little bit of mud on our face right now, but it’s the children that are important.’ “
The Boy Scouts have been dogged by abuse allegations since a landmark case in 2010 that ended with an $18.5 million damage award and the release of more than 20,000 confidential documents, dubbed the “perversion files.”
Those records revealed that the 100-year-old organization had long kept track of suspected and known abusers – banning more than 1,000 leaders and volunteers between 1965 to 1985. But the records also showed the Scouts had rarely, if ever, reported those individuals to police. In a news conference Tuesday, attorney Jeff Anderson revealed court documents indicating that reviews of the “perversion files” found nearly 8,000 volunteers previously banned from the organization due to accusations of child sexual abuse.
Much like USA Gymnastics and the Catholic Church, the Scouts have been accused of covering up the abuse. The Scouting organization faces 200 lawsuits that its insurance companies threatened to stop covering. USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy protection in December, following the lead of more than a dozen church dioceses.
The Boy Scouts joined institutions such as Michigan State University in lobbying against efforts to extend statutes of limitations, proposed in the wake of the Larry Nassar case and #MeToo movement, that would allow victims of sexual abuse more time to come forward and seek damages.
In response to those proposals,“organizations like Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church are now taking legal maneuvers to try to prevent victims from bringing these cases,” Rothweiler said.
Bankruptcy would create a limited window for victims to file claims. Those filings would be confidential, meaning names of perpetrators would not be made public.Afterward, Boy Scouts of America would emerge as a reorganized debtor and would not have to face civil litigation for – or negative publicity about – claims of wrongdoing.
“That’s why they’re going into bankruptcy, not because they don’t have the money,” Kosnoff said. “They’re going into bankruptcy to hide, to hide these dirty secrets.”
Rothweiler said that among the responses the law firms received through their hotline and website, abusedinscouting.com, were two minors, one alleging an incident in 2018. Their experiences call into question whether the Scouts have made good on promises to take proactive steps to prevent abuse.
Samuel – whose name was changed to protect his identity, because he is a minor and an alleged victim – said he was assaulted by an assistant Scout leader around 2008, when he was 7 or 8. His parents had separated, and after a move across the state, he joined the Scouts to meet new people, at his mother’s urging. One of the assistant leaders positioned himself as a mentor, he said, frequently driving him to and from meetings.
On one such occasion, Samuel said, the man followed him to his door. He asked Samuel’s mother if he could invite Samuel to his home, to introduce him to his extensive technology collection. She said yes.
“She trusted the guy because he was always there,” said Samuel, now 17.
Once they got to the house, Samuel said, the leader called him into his bedroom and began touching him inappropriately.
“I remember it graphically; the one thing I don’t want to remember,” he said.
Samuel never went back to the man’s house and dropped out of Scouts. He eventually confided in his grandmother, his legal guardian, but didn’t go any further until he saw the law firms’ TV ads.
The attorneys probably will share their list with child protective service agencies, Kosnoff said, and may file a large suit. They’ve considered sharing the list directly with Boy Scouts of America but remain skeptical the organization would take action.
“It’s striking to me that we’ve had this kind of response in such a short period of time with such limited outreach,” Kosnoff said. “If we could do this with our limited resources, why couldn’t the Boy Scouts of America have done this?”
In a statement, Boy Scouts of America asked anyone who has been harmed to call the Scouts First Helpline (1-844-726-8871) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in USA Today.