01 May 2010

Oh my, now it's the Boy Scouts!

Last week, a jury in Oregon made the largest award for punitive damages to a single plaintiff in a child abuse case in the history of the United States. And which arm of the Catholic Church was this awarded against, you might well ask. Well none, actually. It was against the Boy Scouts of America. For being repeatedly assaulted by former assistant scoutmaster Timur Dykes in the 1980s, Kerry Lewis was awarded $18.5-million.

And this appears to be only the tip of a very large pedophilic iceberg. The jury in the trial was allowed to see about 1,200 files kept by the Scouts on suspected pedophiles, part of what is to believed to be a cache of up to 6,000 files held at the organization's Texas headquarters. Lewis's lawyer, Kelly Clark, said the jury was shocked by the existence of the "perversion files." The files revealed that the organization removes about 180 of its leaders every year.

Lewis's abuser was treated in a not atypical way by the Scouts. He confessed his behaviour to the local Scout co-ordinator, who also happened to be a Mormon bishop, but was allowed to continue working with the organization. He then molested Lewis, and other children, over the next two years.

The Boy Scouts of America is no stranger to controversy. It has been mired in legal actions for decades, dealing with dozens of out-of-court settlements for victims of sex abuse and defending its ban on atheists and gays. Not that it isn't in a position to defend itself. Like the Catholic Church, despite a declining membership it is rich, with $900-million in assets, including a $45-million art collection and large property holdings.

What is it with these all-male organizations and little boys? It's not that pedophilia creeps in -- it's bound to, there's always a certain amount around -- it's their reaction to it. The denials, the cover-ups, their refusal to honestly recognize its reality and to act responsibly when it occurs, their pretence that their organizations are immune to contamination when their all-male atmospheres may in fact be just the places that attract it. Maybe the scandals will wake them up. Maybe the experience will bring them into a new era of honest recognition of sexuality and how to deal with it in all its forms. Maybe.

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