Thursday, April 22, 2010

Scouts defend training program in sex abuse case

Last updated April 21, 2010 8:27 p.m. PT

Scouts defend training program in sex abuse case

FILE - In this April 13, 2010 file photo, plaintiff Kerry Lewis reacts after the verdict against the Boy Scouts of America was announced in Portland, Ore. The jury has already awarded Lewis, 38, $1.4 million for the 1980s abuse and could decide the Boy Scouts organization must pay as much as $25 million more in punitive damages. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
PORTLAND, Ore. -- A Boy Scouts of America executive on Wednesday told a jury considering whether to award $25 million in punitive damages in a sex abuse lawsuit that a prevention program was developed in the 1980s, although it still is not mandatory for Scout leaders.

The Scouts called James Terry as a witness in the punitive damages phase of the trial after the jury awarded $1.4 million in compensatory damages last week to an Oregon man abused by a former assistant Scoutmaster in the early 1980s.

Terry, the chief financial officer for the Scouts at its headquarters in Irving, Texas, also chairs its committee on "youth protection training."

He went over the details of the training program, adding that the Scouts had consulted experts in the field of child sex abuse to help develop the guidelines, including a policy of "two-deep leadership" to avoid leaving adult volunteers alone with Scouts.

But under cross-examination by a lawyer for victim Kerry Lewis, Terry said the Scouts have yet to make it mandatory nationally even though it is strongly recommended to local Scout councils.

The effectiveness of the program the Scouts developed after Lewis was abused in 1983 is expected to be a key factor in how much punitive damages the jury may award.

Attorney Paul Mones asked Terry whether he was aware there was repeated evidence of abuse by Scout leaders in more than 1,000 files compiled on suspected molesters among adult volunteers from 1965-85 that were introduced as evidence in the case.

"No sir," Terry said.

When Mones asked whether Terry had ever looked at the so-called "ineligible volunteer" files, which he oversees at the Scouts headquarters in Irving, the reply was the same: "No sir."

Terry disputed whether any study and evaluation of the files would have found meaningful statistical data that would have contributed to the development of a more effective child abuse prevention program by the Scouts.

He said the Scouts have offered inserts in Scouting manuals warning about the dangers of child abuse, along with training videos and conferences since the late 1980s. In addition, the Scouts now require criminal background checks on all applicants to be Scout leaders.

But Mones pointed out none of those materials identify Scout leaders as potential molesters and instead use generic situations, such as an overly friendly neighbor or relative, to pose the threat.

When Mones asked Terry whether the organization have ever directly warned parents or children about the risk of abuse by a Scout leader in their training materials, the reply again was, "No sir."

Testimony in the case concluded Wednesday with closing arguments expected Thursday afternoon.

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