Henson alleges that when he was a Boy Scout in Texas, he was molested by an assistant Scout leader for about five years, beginning in 1991, when he was 11 years old. Henson is now one of eight plaintiffs joining a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America that their lawyers say could open the door to even more legal action against a century-old organization that faces numerous abuse lawsuits, declining membership and an identity crisis about what it means to be a Scout today.
The Boy Scouts did not directly address the suit but said in a statement that the organization cares “deeply about all victims of child abuse and sincerely apologize[s] to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting,” and encouraged Scouts to report any known or suspected abuse.
The complaint, which alleges that the Boy Scouts of America neglected to protect Scouts from sexual predators and concealed the issue of abuse from their members, Congress and the public, was filed Monday in D.C. federal court. The plaintiffs are represented by a group of lawyers known as Abused in Scouting, which has gathered allegations from hundreds of men who say they were sexually abused during their time in the Boy Scouts.
The lawsuit argues that because the Boy Scouts were founded and incorporated in Washington more than a century ago and their congressional charter establishes the District as their domicile, victims from around the country can sue the organization in the capital under the statute-of-limitation reforms the District implemented last year.
In May, Washington opened a two-year legal window for victims who were abused as minors and adults to bring claims that had previously been barred. It also eliminated the statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges against sexual abusers, and extended the civil statute of limitations to 40 years of age if a victim was 35 or younger when the abuse occurred.
All eight victims named in Monday’s lawsuit are younger than 40.
But the Boy Scouts are currently headquartered in Texas, and all the plaintiffs live outside the District, which could make it difficult for the lawsuit’s novel claim to succeed.
“They would have to convince a court that somehow, although the act occurred outside of D.C., that the corporation is responsible for that act in D.C. And that may be a tough road to hoe,” said Washington-based attorney Joseph Cammarata, who has represented women like Paula Jones and several of Bill Cosby’s accusers in sexual assault cases. Sexual abuse cases are typically brought in the location where the assault occurred, Cammarata said.
Although 24 jurisdictions, including the District, New York and New Jersey, implemented statute-of-limitations reforms for sexual abuse victims in 2019, in many jurisdictions, no recourse exists for people who allege that they were abused decades ago.
The complaint filed Monday argues that “plaintiffs should not be denied a remedy by the happenstance that they were abused as a child by a BSA scout leader in a state without a window statute.” It adds that by allowing the lawsuit to move forward, the court could “remedy the clear injustice that would result from Plaintiffs having no redress simply because of where they were abused as a child."
The plaintiffs are also seeking damages for the mental, physical and emotional injuries they say resulted from the abuse.
Their names have been withheld to maintain their privacy, but Henson allowed The Washington Post to use his name along with his story.
Now a 39-year-old naval officer living in Hawaii with his wife and four children, Henson said he has worked for years to overcome depression, alcohol abuse, trust issues and other challenges that he believes stem from the assaults.
“I’d like to help other men come out of the darkness, come out of those pits of despair, to come into the light, to make themselves known and then really start working on their recovery,” he said.
After six months, Henson’s son changed his mind about the Scouts. He was flat-footed, and an arduous hike was the final straw. He didn’t want to be a Boy Scout anymore. Henson was relieved.
“I said okay,” Henson said. “And we threw all of his Boy Scout stuff away.”