Scouts’ dishonor: Boy Scouts of America blame the victim in cringeworthy legal defense against Sacramento sexual abuse lawsuit
Scout leader in question currently serving six years for child molestation
A national sex-abuse survivors’ network has condemned the Boy Scouts of America for asserting a blame-the-victim strategy in a civil lawsuit unfolding in Sacramento.
An Eagle Scout sued the venerable youth organization in Sacramento Superior Court in October of last year. Identified as John Doe, the plaintiff alleges that Dustin Hedrick, a former assistant scoutmaster for Troop 40 in Redding, sexually abused him on two occasions starting about six years ago when Hedrick was 19 years old and Doe was 13.
The Boy Scouts of America has mounted a defense that claims the plaintiff didn’t immediately report the abuse because “at least part of him enjoyed the experience” and that the underage Eagle Scout and Hedrick had a “consensual, clandestine” relationship—even though Hedrick was an adult in a position of authority at the time. Hedrick is currently serving a six-year prison sentence after pleading no contest to committing lewd acts upon a different 13-year-old in 2012.
The Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, which is usually focused on child molestation within the Catholic Church, first called attention to the “immoral, mean-spirited and possibly illegal” framing of the case in a news release last week.
“It’s not a relationship. It’s a crime,” SNAP board member Melanie Sakoda told SN&R.
“The perpetrator was convicted,” she added. “He was sentenced to prison. The judge was very clear that he abused his position of authority. They are blaming a 13-year-old victim, a vulnerable child, who was away from home and on his own when it happened. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth when the Boy Scouts resort to this.”
According to the complaint, Hedrick first engaged in sexual acts with Doe and another minor at an August 2010 “celebration” for Hedrick’s achievement of the rank of Eagle Scout.
Afterwards, Hedrick maintained contact with Doe over social media for 18 months, the victim alleges. Then, in 2012, they both attended an Order of the Arrow function at Camp Lassen, an event to recognize exemplary scouts and instill “positive youth leadership under the guidance of selected capable adults,” the complaint asserts. While alone with Doe in a sleeping area, Hedrick allegedly sexually assaulted him two nights in a row, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit, which seeks an unspecified amount in damages, also alleges that other Boy Scout officials knew of the abuse, but did little to stop it.
Doe’s complaint alleges that in October 2010, Hedrick had sexual contact with another minor Boy Scout in the home of a Boy Scouts leader, identified in the complaint as Amy “Roe.” The complaint says she told Hedrick to stop, but did not inform Doe’s parents of Hedrick’s propensity to engage minors.
Later, the Camp Lassen Lodge chief, identified as Kristopher “Roe,” caught Hedrick with Doe in a cabin without any other adults, the complaint states. He brought this to the attention of Boy Scout leaders, but no one informed Doe’s parents, according to the complaint.
The suit alleges that the Boy Scouts of America is culpable as Hedrick acted as an agent for the organization, which presented him as an “admired, competent and trustworthy Eagle Scout and Assistant Boy Scoutmaster.”
The defense filed a motion claiming that the Boy Scouts organization “lacked control” over Hedrick. That motion was denied for lack of evidence. Still, the Boy Scouts` have sought to distance themselves from Hedrick, with the motion claiming the “local scouting community was shocked” when the allegations came to light.
“This behavior runs counter to everything for which the Boy Scouts of America stands,” said Chuck Brasfeild, scout executive of the Golden Empire Council branch of the Boy Scouts, the organization for which Hedrick volunteered, then was removed from in 2012. The GEC has its headquarters in Sacramento and is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Brasfeild declined to comment directly on the ongoing lawsuit. But his group’s defense made the case for a “clandestine, consensual” relationship as Doe has admitted he is also gay. They allege that the plaintiff didn’t immediately report the abuse as “at least part of him enjoyed the experience.”
This defense may not be legal as consent cannot be a defense if “the person who commits the sexual battery is an adult who is in a position of authority over the minor,” according to the California Civil Code.
“This young man is going to be working on this probably for the rest of his life,” Sakoda said. “And the [Boy Scouts of America] makes it worse by saying, ‘You’re to blame.’ I don’t see how whether the scout is gay or not has anything to do with what happened to him. He was 13. This is predatory behavior.”
Sakoda fears the organization’s framing of the case could discourage other victims from reporting abuse.
Indeed, there’s a record of past cover-ups.
In April 2010, the Boy Scouts organization paid $18.5 million to Kerry Lewis for repeated sexual abuse by an assistant scoutmaster. During the case, the judge ordered the release of 1,900 files on suspected sexual abusers within the organization. A Los Angeles Times investigation of the documents and 3,100 case summaries found that the Boy Scouts of America dismissed 5,000 people for suspected sexual abuse between 1947 and 2005. The organization routinely failed to report abusers, allowed repeat offenders to remain active and sought to conceal these crimes from the public, the investigation found.
In tacit acknowledgment of this problem, the Boy Scouts hired child abuse prevention expert Mike Johnson to be their youth protection director in July 2010. Since 1982, he has served various organizations, helped shape laws and conducted hundreds of training sessions devoted to protecting children.
Officially, the Boy Scouts require each volunteer to be screened by the local chartered organization to ensure that he or she is a trustworthy member of the community. The organization also checks for criminal histories and trains volunteers on appropriate behaviors, it says, including mandatory reporting of abuse and the “two-deep” rule, which demands that at least two adults be with scouts at any time.
But the organization also places some of the responsibility for stopping abuse on its scouts, instructing them to “recognize” signs and situations that could lead to molestation, then “resist” and “report” it.
Sakoda stressed that putting the onus on the children isn’t the solution.
“The kids aren’t responsible for it,” she said. “But I hope those that are in these situations will come forward and get help, despite what the Boy Scouts have been saying. And people who suspect, they need to speak up. Particularly the adults. We’re probably never going to be in a situation where there aren’t predators. But we can do what we can to minimize the damage that they cause.”