People Magazine [New York NY]
December 9, 2021
By KC Baker
Some abuse survivors believe the safety measures mandated by the settlement don’t go far enough
In June of 2018, the parents of 8-year-old Quinn, of St Louis, Mo., sent him on a four-night camping trip with his Cub Scout troop, believing he would be safe. (Quinn’s name has been changed in this article to protect his anonymity.)
He was not. Four months later, Quinn’s parents learned that his Cub Scout leader had been arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a child at his home.
Wondering whether Quinn had suffered the same terrifying fate, his dad asked him if the leader had ever touched him inappropriately. “He said, ‘Yes,'” says Quinn’s dad, who, at the time, did everything he could to hold back his own tears as his son wept in his arms. “It was heartbreaking for all of us.”
Now, Quinn and more than 82,000 other former scouts who allege they were abused in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) are fighting back. They are suing the nation’s largest youth organization — an institution as quintessentially American as baseball and apple pie — for failing to protect them from predators who stole their innocence and left them with a lifetime of trauma.
After filing for bankruptcy in 2020, the BSA is now offering to compensate survivors with a $1.9 billion cash settlement.
Claimants have until Dec. 28 to vote on whether to approve the offer, which includes a massive reorganization plan. “The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has spent nearly two years working through a financial restructuring to come to a resolution that will equitably compensate survivors and we want to ensure that Scouting’s mission continues,” the BSA said in a statement to PEOPLE.
But some argue that the plan doesn’t go far enough financially, saying there is much more money to access. More importantly, some also say the plan doesn’t go far enough to protect children.
“Is the organization safe for youth today?” says Michael Johnson, former National Youth Protection Director for the BSA who left the organization in 2020 because he objected to the way scouts’ safety was handled. “No, it isn’t.”
If a majority of survivors vote yes to the sweeping plan – and a U.S. Bankruptcy judge approves it on Jan. 24, 2022 – then the ensuing restructuring would “put in strict measures to make sure this never happens again,” attorney Ken Rothweiler, co-founder of The Coalition for Abused Scouts For Justice, which supports the offer, says.
Survivor John Sakowicz, host of the public radio show, Heroes and Patriots, who was also abused by his scout leader, is voting for the plan, saying the “proposed safety measures negotiated by the Coalition” will protect scouts — and that the organization is worth trying to preserve.
“The Boy Scouts of America has built leaders and citizens through World Wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, the global financial crisis, and now the COVID pandemic,” he says. “It’s a very important national institution. It needs to be saved. It deserves to be saved.”
But opponents say the safety measures don’t go far enough. They point to a current BSA policy that says adults accompanying scouts on trips less than 72 hours do not need to register by undergoing a thorough background check. “That makes no sense,” says Johnson. “You do not allow any adult to interact with our scouting youth unless they’re completely registered.”
In its reply to PEOPLE, the BSA said, “We want to assure you Scouting is safer than ever before” and that it “is currently in the process of evaluating the current 72-hour rule.”
Keeping kids safe is non-negotiable, says John Humphrey, chairman of the Torts Claimants Committee. Humphrey was abused more than 200 times by his scout leader and he opposes the offer. The only solution, he says, is to make scouting “a bad place for pedophiles to exist. Zero tolerance. People going to jail.”
As for Quinn, he still doesn’t talk much about the abuse, especially to his mother.
“His therapist told me he won’t tell me about it,” she says, tearing up. “He wants to shield his mom from all of this pain.”