Boy Scouts, Catholic Church, more face new lawsuits as NY Child Victims Act window opens

Cara Kelly and Marisa Kwiatkowski

One man told of sexual abuse starting when he was 10.

Another man reported he was sexually abused as a teenager.

A third said he was sexually abused from the age of 11 on.

All three incidents have two other things in common: They date back half a century, and the men accused were Scoutmasters, the adult leaders of Boy Scout troops.

Those are among the latest allegations against the Boy Scouts of America, an organization hit last week by a lawsuit from a firm that claims to have more than 800 new clients who say they were preyed on as Scouts.

The newest allegations came Wednesday among hundreds of lawsuits filed under New York’s Child Victims Act, which opened a one-year window for lawsuits from child sexual abuse victims previously barred by the statute of limitations.

Attorney Vincent Nappo said the goal is to raise public awareness. He said his firm – Pfau, Cochran, Vertetis and Amala – is filing seven lawsuits Wednesday in New York against Boy Scouts of America on behalf of 20 survivors of sexual abuse.

The suits contain allegations that span decades, from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s. The majority involve Scoutmasters and other adult leaders. Nappo said his firm represents additional clients who say they were abused in Scouting across the country, and there are three active cases in Washington and Chicago. 

"Now that the law's about to open up ... I think there’s going to be even more people who are going to read about this and hear about it, and the Boy Scouts are going to have a lot of tough questions to answer," Nappo said.

The Boy Scouts of America isn't the only organization whose handling of child sexual abuse allegations is under renewed scrutiny. Lawsuits filed across New York name individuals accused of child sexual abuse and the institutions with which they were affiliated, such as schools and churches. Some have never before been publicly accused.

A woman said a school janitor began raping her when she was 12, nearly four decades ago. One man said he was sexually abused as a teenager by a Jehovah's Witnesses ministerial servant, in 1985 and 1986. Another said he was first sexually abused by a Catholic priest in the 1950s when he was about 11.

"This week, time's up in New York," Sarah Klein, an attorney with Dalton & Associates, said in a statement. "Time’s up for abuse, covering it up, and acting like it doesn’t matter. The message is simple: if you fail to protect the children in your care from sexual predators, you will be held accountable in court."

Klein has a personal connection: "As a survivor of childhood abuse at the hands of (former USA Gymnastics team doctor) Larry Nassar, I stand with my brother and sister survivors in New York who will no longer be silenced."

In a statement Tuesday, the Boy Scouts organization said it strongly supports holding sexual abusers accountable.

"First and foremost, we care deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting," the organization said. "We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to abuse innocent children. We believe victims, we support them, we pay for counseling by a provider of their choice, and we encourage them to come forward."

The organization has deflected reports that it might be considering Chapter 11 bankruptcy – a step taken by other organizations inundated with criticism over their handling of child sexual abuse allegations, such as USA Gymnastics and some dioceses of the Catholic Church.

More than 800 accusers have come forward 

A group of attorneys led by Tim Kosnoff, who has litigated more than a thousand cases of sexual misconduct against organizations such as the Scouts and the Mormon church, launched Abused in Scouting this spring

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. 

This month, the group filed suit on behalf of one client who alleged his Scoutmaster plied him with drugs and alcohol before repeatedly sexually abusing him. The suit says hundreds of former Scouts have come forward in recent months with accounts of sexual abuse, allegations from across eight decades that reach nearly every state.   

Kosnoff said more than 800 clients alleged abuse during their time in Boy Scouts, and dozens more reached out to abusedinscouting.com. 

More: ‘There's no rehabbing the Boy Scouts.’ Former Scout speaks out about latest lawsuit

The accused are teachers, doctors, police officers

In the lawsuit filed by Kosnoff and his team last week, lawyers said they identified 350 abusers who preyed on young Scouts. Only two dozen of their names are in the Boy Scouts’ disciplinary files, made public in a previous court case. 

The list of alleged abusers, obtained by USA TODAY, details molestation ranging from fondling to sodomy. Some of the men accused by former Scouts ended up in court or were punished administratively for similar crimes, sometimes many years after these newly alleged assaults. Some were kicked out of Scouting for abuse. USA TODAY is naming only those who fit one or more of those categories. 

The accused were often men of stature in their communities, who volunteered as troop leaders or assistant troop leaders. They were police officers and members of the military, teachers and a mayor, doctors and a child psychologist. 

Their prominent positions offered them easy access to children. They allegedly caught their prey in tents and homemade shelters in the wilderness, in their cars shuttling young boys back and forth to Scouting activities and sometimes in the children’s own homes.  

More: Boy Scouts lawsuit: Parents trust teachers and counselors, but should they?

Alleged abusers worked with children outside Boy Scouts

Beyond Scouts, many of the accused were in positions to protect, mentor and nurture children. That raises questions about whether top Scouting officials could have warned authorities but didn't, allowing the men to strike again.

Michael Nussbaum, 57, made his allegations public for the first time, as one of nearly 800 clients of the attorneys who filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court.

Nussbaum said he was abused when he was 14 by police Sgt. Jon Wyatt, who was a troop leader. Nussbaum said he was invited to the detective’s bureau for a volunteer opportunity and found himself alone in Wyatt’s office.  

“He pulled out a gun and put it on the table and said, ‘Nobody will ever believe you,’ or something to the effect of that,” Nussbaum said. “And he was right.”

Three years later, when he was 17, Nussbaum saw an article in the Miami Herald: Wyatt had been arrested for abusing a 7-year-old. He’s serving a life sentence.

More: Nearly 800 accuse Boy Scouts of failing to protect them from sex abuse as new lawsuit is filed

More allegations may be on the horizon

Matt Stewart traces the growing line of men who say they were sexually abused by their trusted Boy Scout leaders back nearly two decades and finds himself. 

“Here we are 20 years later,” he said. “And the story just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”   

In 2003, Stewart and his brother Tom filed a lawsuit that broke ground in the effort to unearth the scope of abuse in Scouting.  

The case, filed against the Boy Scouts of America and the former Scoutmaster they said molested them as children in the 1970s and 1980s in Tacoma, Washington, forced the Scouts to turn over secret files on volunteers it deemed ineligible. The records – some of which were released later to the public by court order, becoming known as the “Perversion Files” – revealed that the organization removed thousands of leaders for abusing children over the course of more than five decades. 

Matt Stewart says he and his brother Tom were abused as children when they were in the Boy Scouts. They settled out of court after suing in 2003.

Stewart, 54, who lives in California, talks openly about the abuse he said he suffered weekly for more than a decade – in the car on the way to Monday night Scout meetings, on camping trips, in the basement of his own home under the guise of working on merit badges. 

He said the latest round of men to publicly name their abusers will encourage more victims to come forward. 

“This number is going to explode,” he said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Boy Scouts hit with more lawsuits under Child Victims Act window