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Scout Abuse Victims Feel Abandoned
Former Boy Scouts still struggle to cope with the abuse they suffered at the hands of Scout leaders, and those who are willing to tell the stories of their abuse have come to feel abandoned by an organization considered a pillar of American society.
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Former Boy Scouts still struggle to cope with the abuse they suffered at the hands of Scout leaders, and those who are willing to tell the stories of their abuse have come to feel abandoned by an organization considered a pillar of American society.
"There are so many victims who have suffered in silence. Marriages and relationships with their kids have suffered," said Tom Stewart, a 46-year-old engineer for Boeing who was sexually abused by his Scoutmaster in Washington state from age 8 to 18.
Stewart's brother, Matt, was abused by the same scoutmaster during roughly the same time period — at their home, during camping trips and elsewhere.
"I still have some nightmares to this day of abuse," Tom Stewart said.
The Stewarts are angry that the Boy Scouts of America have fought to keep confidential thousands of files the organization has kept since the early 1900s on suspected pedophiles within their ranks. The Stewarts say releasing the files decades ago would have helped stop pedophiles.
"The Scouts have sat on these files for nearly 100 years," said 47-year-old Matt Stewart, who lives in Palm Desert, Calif., where he is a pharmaceutical salesman.
"They did nothing. They turned their back. They claimed ignorance. In most cases, they never contacted the police. There is no more callous neglect of children's rights," said Tom Stewart, 50, who lives in Enumclaw, Wash.
In the 14,500 pages of files the Scouts were forced to release to a victims' attorney by a court order, there is little mention of concern for the well-being of boys who were molested. Sometimes, there appears to be a callous disregard for victims.
In August 1966, according to the files, a boy at a Scout camp reported he had been molested by the camp's rifle range instructor. The camp director didn't believe the boy so he sent the Scout back out onto the rifle range. The director said he would hide to see what happened.
According to a memo written by the camp director, he saw the rifle range instructor molest the boy. The director went up to the instructor, left, and hid again. The rifle range instructor again molested the boy, according to the camp director's memo.
The camp director, the local scoutmaster and the boys' parents held a meeting. The meeting closed with all agreeing that the rifle range instructor would be "quietly dismissed," and to "keep our knowledge private."
Although hundreds of lawsuits have been filed across the country by men who were sexually abused when they were Scouts, the Stewarts say there are legions more who are suffering in silence.
The Stewarts decided to sue after discussing their memories of the abuse. Matt Stewart said he reported his former scoutmaster to Seattle police in the 1980s but a series of breakdowns in communication allowed the case to go cold.
In 2003, the Stewarts sued their former scoutmaster — who turned over the deed to his house — and the Scouts, who settled.
Tom Stewart says he believes in the principles of Scouting, to the extent that he became a Scout leader himself despite his years of abuse.
"Deep down, I very much believe in the Boy Scout program, instilling leadership in young men, the community service part of Boy Scouts," said Tom Stewart. "However, the most important part of the program — that would be protecting boys — they have been negligent on many counts."
Stewart said he decided just before he filed suit that he couldn't continue in the organization, knowing what he knew about its failures to protect children.
"I couldn't wear this uniform anymore until the Boy Scouts were going to be much more diligent," he said.
Associated Press writer Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.