Victimized Boys to Traumatized Men: Boy Scouts Fail Thousands of Sexual Abuse Survivors

Jun 19, 2019

At least one in six men have been sexually abused or assaulted. An estimated 16 to 18% of these men were victimized when they were under the age of eighteen. 1in6, a men’s anti-sexual violence advocacy organization, concludes that these stark statics likely underrepresentthe number of male sexual abuse victims. Media reports revealing chronic sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts of America support these shocking statistics: a review of the Scouts’ files reveal that between 1944 and 2016, 12,254 boys had been sexually abused by Scout leaders and volunteers. To this day, survivors continue to come forward with stories of being sexually violated by their trusted Scout leaders.

Studies indicate that boys and men are less likely than girls and women to speak of their abuse. If they do disclose their victimization, it may be many years before they share their stories. The socialization of males in mainstream American society shapes how survivors perceive and respond to abuse. Societal and cultural expectations also affect how others respond to male survivors’ stories. In an article for Psychology Today, Richard B. Gartner, Ph.D. writes, “Boys are supposed to be competitive, resilient, and independent, but certainly not emotionally needy. ‘Real’ men initiate sexual activity and want sex whenever it’s offered…” When men are socialized to understand masculinity in these ways, they may not recognize themselves as victims of abuse. In an interview with, Dr. Eli Newberger, a pediatrician who has testified in Boys Scouts’ pedophilia cases, suggests that both men and women risk being stigmatized when they report abuse. He adds, “‘But unfortunately for men, there is this extra shame that you were not able to protect yourself, that you were found to be powerless.’” Psychologist Gartner also points out that arousal is the body’s natural response to sexual stimuli; yet, survivors’ who experience stimulation during their abuse may feel that they invited or willing participated in their own abuse. The resulting feelings of guilt and confusion often stop survivors from disclosing. Further, the pervasive myth that sexually abused boys will go on to become sexual perpetrators themselves works to keep males silent about their abuse: not only do they carry their own fears about their propensity for abuse, they worry that others will perceive them as sexual predators. Finally, Gartner suggests that homophobia and issues around sexual identity make it difficult for male survivors to share their stories.

Boys who do not receive help with healing from their abuse risk growing into men who continue to suffer. Reflecting on his research of male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, Dr. David Lisak writes, “Sexual abuse has the power to fundamentally damage a victim’s relationship both to themselves and to other people.” In a piece for USA Today, James Kretschmer, a survivor who was sexually abused at age twelve by his Boy Scouts troop leader, writes of enduring effects of the abuse: “As an adult, my relationships suffered… I realize now that I was closing myself off and keeping other people away from me – especially the ones who wanted my love. I had no love or trust to give.” Another adult Scout survivor, Darrell Jackson, tells, “‘It caused me to go into crime, drugs, everything, just to block stuff out.’” The tentacles of childhood sexual abuse can reach into every aspects of adult survivors’ lives, leaving them vulnerable to struggles with mental health, relationships, substance abuse, and physical ailments.

The good news: healing is possible. Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse find engaging in psychotherapy helps them develop a sense of hope and resiliency. Breaking their isolation by sharing their stories with other survivors, as well as advocating for other survivors can also promote health and healing in survivors. For some survivors, using the justice system to hold their abusers and the systems that support them accountable supports the healing process. While the Boy Scouts claim to care about the children who were sexually abused by members of their organization, their track record tells a very different story. The Boy Scouts have repeatedly failed to report the sexual predators in their ranks to authorities; as a result, many of these perpetrators are free to continue their sexual assaults of children. While lawmakers across the nation are working to extend statutes of limitations for filing sexual abuse claims, the Boy Scouts – who claim to believe and care about scouting abuse survivors – continue to employ lobbyists to oppose these efforts. Meanwhile, thousands of boys who were abused by leaders in the Boy Scouts have grown into men living with trauma. Our attorneys are committed to helping survivors of sexual abuse recover the resources they need to lead healthy, productive lives. If you or someone you know was sexually abused by a member of the Boy Scouts, please contact us today for a free consultation.

Sources and Resources: