Three things to know about the Boy Scouts sex abuse cases

This past week a fifth former Boy Scout joined a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a disgraced Athens Scoutmaster suspected of predatory behavior dating back to the 1970s.

“My belief is there are far more victims,” said attorney Darren Penn, who represents the five plaintiffs in the suit against the late Ernest Boland and three Athens churches that sponsored troops.

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Some would say it shouldn’t come as a surprise to the Boy Scouts, who kept a confidential file on Boland. The businessman and Army Reserve colonel was accused of sexual misconduct by at least a dozen Scouts over a period of 25 years.

“There was strong evidence that Boland had been involved with several Scouts,” a Boy Scouts investigation found. “However, in all cases, it was his word against another individual.”

1. Boland resigned from the Boy Scouts in 1977. Why is he being sued now?

Tim Doe, the pseudonym of the latest plaintiff to join the suit, believed for years he was the Athens Scoutmaster’s only victim, according to his complaint. He came forward after learning the Boy Scouts and the churches named in the suit knew the allegations to be true but chose not to inform parents of the dangers posed by Boland, who died in 2013.

That's not uncommon, Penn said. And there would've been no way for Doe to know he was just one of many boys allegedly victimized by Boland — and the apparent cover-up that followed —  before 2012, when the Scouts were ordered by a judge to release ineligible volunteer files documenting more than a thousand alleged incidents of sexual abuse over a 20-year period (1965-85).

2. How many predators were operating within the Boy Scouts?

The Scouts have refused to release any of the so-called “perversion files” maintained after 1985, arguing that confidentiality makes it easier for victims to come forward.

“We’re talking 6,000 files, of which only 1,800 have been released,” Penn said.

And that’s just the boys who reported abuse.

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Emma Hetherington, director of the University of Georgia Law School’s Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic, said the Scouts are more interested in protecting the organization than children.

“No one is asking them to release the names of the victims,” Hetherington said. “If you really want to protect more boys, you release the names of the offenders. It’s about holding them accountable and holding the Scouts accountable.”

In recent years, the problem has abated as the Scouts have enacted a number of safeguards prohibiting adult leaders from being alone with children.

3. Earlier this year, Georgia legislators defeated a bill that would have made it easier to sue organizations involved in alleged cover-ups of sexual abuse. How, then, can the Scouts and related entities be held accountable in a court of law?

In the Athens suit, attorneys for the plaintiffs have invoked public nuisance statues against the Boy Scouts and the churches that sponsored them, saying they allowed predators access to children and withheld that information from parents.

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In the case involving former Gainesville Scoutmaster Fleming Weaver, who admitted to molesting “at least five boys,” attorneys for one of his alleged victims, Robb Lawson, are invoking Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), to sue the Scouts.

“We have discovered there is a history where the national leadership would actively promise silence on behalf of predators as long as they left the troops where the abuse occurred,” said attorney Esther Panitch, who represents Lawson. “But they didn’t stop them from coming back to the Scouts where they would continue to prey on unsuspecting victims.”

Panitch said the conspiracy extends from the national leadership down to the local level.