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Ohio survivors of Boy Scout sexual abuse push for change to statute of limitations

A close-up of a Boy Scout uniform is photographed on Feb. 4, 2013, in Irving, Texas.
Tony Gutierrez
A close-up of a Boy Scout uniform is photographed on Feb. 4, 2013, in Irving, Texas.

A note to readers and listeners, this story includes discussions of abuse of minors and suicide.

A bankruptcy settlement involving the Boy Scouts of America sets aside nearly $3 billion for more than 82,000 people who were sexually assaulted and abused by people within the organization. About 1,900 of those victims are in Ohio. But the state’s statute of limitations caps the amount of money survivors can claim.

There’s a bill in the Ohio House to help survivors get their full share.

As it stands, Ohioans involved with the Boy Scout settlement can only get 30% to 45% of what they’d otherwise receive. That means a $378,000 claim in a state like California with a longer statute of limitations would only pay about $142,000 here in Ohio.

There’s an effort to change that. The Scouts Honor bill would abolish Ohio’s civil statute of limitations, which ends at age 30 for victims of child sexual abuse, in the event of bankruptcy settlements.

Chris Graham is an advocate for victims of sexual assault and a survivor of sexual abuse. He’s not a claimant in the Boy Scout’s settlement himself.

“My involvement in this bill started because I was a survivor," he said. "And as a survivor of child rape, my heart breaks for these guys. To know that we had 1,911 guys here in the state of Ohio, I kind of felt in my bones, I should be fighting for these guys.”

After Chris Graham went public with his story, he dedicated himself to advocating for sexual abuse survivors.
Tyler Thompson

One of those survivors is an Ohio man named David. We’re not using his last name to protect his privacy. He got involved in the Boy Scouts settlement after being abused between 1967 and 1969.

“My Boy Scout master was also my fifth-grade teacher," he said. "I was getting abused at school, during lunch recess, times he – because I would miss my bus he would take me home, got abused in the car, got abused at sleepovers at his house, got abused - boy scout camp.”

David estimates his scout leader abused him more than 100 times. David met Graham after he learned about his experience. David reached out to express his frustrations with Ohio’s statutes of limitations.

“I was like are you kidding me," David said. "It ticked me off. So I told him what I wanted to do. First was to help the boy scouts in Ohio get a fair share. I wanted to change the law.”

They went to the Ohio Statehouse in May to meet with lawmakers like Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati). Seitz was involved in a sweeping tort law reform in the mid-2000s and said he’s usually a staunch defender of Ohio’s statute of limitations.

“Which exist to encourage people to come forward with their complaints when issues are fresh in their mind,” Seitz said.

David and Graham shared their stories with Seitz. They explained the Boy Scouts settlement with survivors. David said he went that day doubting they would be successful.

“I said if somebody in Michigan would get $1,000, he would get 100% of that and that's not fair" David said. "His eyes open, he asked me some direct questions. And I said it’s only for the Boy Scouts. ‘Well send me the information.’”

Seitz and Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park) have co-sponsored the bill to eliminate the civil statute of limitations in this case.

For Seitz, it was key that the Boy Scouts had admitted to wrongdoing and that the settlement was in place.

“Why should the California people, for example, get more money than an Ohio victim for the same kinds of misconduct," he said. "Where the defendant has knowingly and willingly agreed to settle on those terms?”

But Miranda said the bill is one step in her mission to make sweeping changes to the statute of limitations in Ohio.

“All survivors of sexual violence deserve to have access to justice," she said. "It should not be on a timeline; it should be when they feel comfortable coming forward. There is so much more work to do after this.”

David and Graham want to be a part of that work. It took Graham 26 years to share his story and 56 years for David.

For David, it’s a story that was nearly never told. He contemplated suicide in college.

“I can’t even imagine how many people have killed themselves because of abuse," David said. "You hear about a sophomore or freshman in high school who committed suicide. No note. No reason. And the more I think about it, it is like you know what, that could have been me.”

David has made it his mission to help and empower other survivors. Sharing has helped him heal, and hopes others with stories like his can find a safe space to do so.

“I’m telling you there’s a reason why I’m here," David said. "And I think that reason is to help kids, teenagers, women who are raped and I think that’s my mission in life. And I want to pursue that as far as I can.”

The Boy Scouts settlement gives survivors three options to make a claim.

The first option allows a payout of $3,500 and requires little to no documentation.

A second option would ask survivors to see where they fall on a matrix, with value ranges based on the type of abuse, which could require additional documentation.

The third option would pursue an independent review process, intended to replicate the award they would receive in a civil court case.

A compensation calculator posted on the Boy Scouts' website estimates how much money survivors could claim, based on the type of abuse.

A provision in the scout’s settlement gives states one year to pass legislation like the Scouts Honor bill in order for residents to be eligible for full payments. The Ohio bill must become law by July 29, 2023 to allow victims in the state to receive full payments.

A statement from Boy Scouts of America said it’s their hope that the current process will give survivors the opportunity to be compensated efficiently and equitably. It also says they support the elimination of criminal statutes of limitations for sexual abuse, but does not mention efforts like those in Ohio to abolish civil statutes of limitations.

The full statement from Boy Scouts of America:

The Boy Scouts of America initiated its financial restructuring to fulfill our social and moral responsibility to equitably compensate survivors who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting. We have worked with survivors and their representatives to create a Plan of Reorganization that gives them a number of options for receiving equitable compensation—including an expedited distribution option that allows survivors to select an expedited payment if they do not wish to have their claim fully evaluated by the Settlement Trust.  Our hope is that this process will give survivors the opportunity be compensated efficiently and equitably, including in some cases receiving compensation that they otherwise might not have been eligible for in the tort system. The BSA also supports the elimination of criminal statutes of limitations for sexual abuse.

We are pleased that the Court has approved the vast majority of the provisions of our Plan of Reorganization and overruled the majority of the objections to confirmation and also found that the overall combination of the monetary and non-monetary aspects of the Plan are fair to abuse claimants. Negotiations around certain modifications the Court requires, including to the releases for The Church of Jesus Christ (TCJC), are ongoing. We are committed to working with all parties to make the necessary modifications to our Plan and hope to resolve all outstanding issues as soon as possible.

Importantly, with the Court’s approval, the BSA’s Plan of Reorganization is poised to establish the largest sexual abuse compensation fund in the history of the United States.

We continue to be enormously grateful to the survivor community, whose bravery, patience, and willingness to share their experiences has been instrumental in the formation of this Plan. Survivors have devoted a great deal of time and effort in this process, and this will have a lasting impact on our organization—their perspectives and priorities are captured throughout this Plan and will be ingrained in the BSA’s programming moving forward.

Tyler Thompson was a reporter and on-air host for 89.7 NPR News. Thompson, originally from northeast Ohio, has spent the last three years working as a Morning Edition host and reporter at NPR member station KDLG Public Radio and reporter at the Bristol Bay Times Newspaper in Dillingham, Alaska.