Starting when I was 10 years old, I endured years of horrific sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the Boy Scouts of America. For nearly half a century, I suffered silently, suppressing the most painful memories you could imagine and enduring internal agony with no one to turn to. I faced unnecessary failures in my life because of low self-esteem, and I had two very close-call suicide attempts.
Then, in recent years, I thought the dam was breaking and the tens of thousands of victims of the Boy Scouts’ abuse might see justice.
Instead, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) declared bankruptcy, a process that will effectively silence our voices and absolve them of full responsibility. Thursday, July 29, was a critical juncture in the Boy Scouts’ bankruptcy case. Although a judge extended until late August the timeline for BSA national and individual troops to reach an agreement about how to compensate survivors, the decision set the stage for the settlement to be approved, so that the BSA and their insurers can step up and pay for what the BSA did to me and the 82,000 other boys who are eligible victims.
Survivors of heinous crimes deserve to have their day in court, but the bankruptcy proceedings essentially shut down future lawsuits against the BSA. While the class of victims has agreed to an initial proposed settlement with the BSA and local councils – albeit a meager one – much of the final settlement will come from the Boy Scouts’ insurance companies. In Thursday's hearing, the long, painful process of negotiating how much our pain was worth continued. As it stands, there is still a gap between what our claims are worth and what the BSA has suggested.
BSA intends to use these bankruptcy proceedings to walk away as cheaply as possible and worse, to continue silencing us. Once the BSA’s bankruptcy is approved, survivors will be unable to sue them for any abuse. BSA can use the bankruptcy process as both a shield and a sword, to protect themselves against the consequences of decades of enabling sexual abuse, and to further wound their victims.
Defenseless, and ashamed
Boy Scout leaders and troop members cruelly abused me countless times over two years. I have filed a claim in the bankruptcy action outlining many specifics of the abuse I faced.
Once, my troop leader made me strip to my underwear, rolled and tied me up in a rug, and left me locked in a closet for an entire weekend. During a week from hell at a summer camp, upon my parents leaving, my troop burned my clothing, forced me to sleep outside in a shallow grave that was lined with holly leaves, where I was urinated on multiple times a night, and abused in every way imaginable.
These were just two instances in a sea of abuse, but it defines my entire interaction with BSA. Every single instance of abuse was overseen or ordered by the troop leader and his son.
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I was defenseless and ashamed. I had no one to help me. I even fell into a routine of secretly washing the blood from my underwear with peroxide so my mother wouldn’t notice the evidence of sexual abuse.
The mental and physical injuries persist. Small things, like the smell of Jack Daniel’s that always lingered on my troop leader’s breath, the level of the whiskey bottles that served as a clue for how long the abuse would last that day, still haunt me in everyday moments.
When Boy Scouts survivors began coming forward, a tsunami of traumatic memories rushed back to me and others. Those memories were too much for many to handle, and we’ve lost fathers, husbands, brothers, friends, and sons to suicide. Who knows the contributions they might have made to our world if they hadn’t been taken too soon. The survivors who are still here face depression, addiction, and a whole host of mental health struggles.
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The sick fantasies of troop leaders have turned into a lifetime of suffering, guilt, self-doubt and lost opportunities for tens of thousands of people, all unnecessarily. We trusted them blindly because of who they were.
Scouts' chance to be 'morally straight'
The Boy Scouts oath demands scouts be “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” The morally straight action now would be for the BSA to stand up, admit their wrongdoing, and set up a fair compensation fund for survivors.
In addition to fair compensation to help survivors deal with the significant repercussions of PTSD on our physical, financial, social and emotional wellbeing, laws must change to better protect children. We need required, thorough and ongoing background checks for all adults supervising children in any capacity. Abuse investigations must be handled by outside authorities, and we need broader and more strictly enforced mandatory reporting laws. I would also like to see prosecutors handle abuse cases more aggressively.
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The BSA owes children and their families meaningful reforms to increase transparency and accountability for individuals who commit unspeakable acts. People who bully, whether they do so sexually or otherwise, should be immediately removed, charged, and blacklisted from the BSA and any position that puts them in close proximity to children – there should be no second chances for anyone. The Boy Scouts should also fund third-party counseling of children abused within their organization.
While no amount of money can make me or any other survivor “whole,” a meager payout that lets the Boy Scouts walk away will be a devastating blow. True justice in this case is impossible, but bankruptcy is the coward’s way out. The BSA has the funds to pay victims fairly, and they should.
The BSA has tried to silence me since I was 10 years old, and I won’t stay quiet anymore. Even if their bankruptcy is approved and survivors don’t get what we need, I will continue pushing for permanent, legislative change and fighting for the safer and more just world we wish we had grown up in. I now have hope through my attorney and a just court. But I wish we all had had the chance to face them and let them feel our pain for once, on our terms.
Johnny Austin was a Boy Scout in the 1970s and is a survivor of sexual abuse. He now lives in North Idaho, and he is represented by Morgan & Morgan in his case against the BSA.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy: Rampant sex abusers should pay