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Many adults who try to achieve justice for being sexually abused as children discover too late that they've run out of time to file a claim.
In the legal system it's known as a "statue of limitations," and it's at the heart of a novel civil lawsuit that's been filed in Washington, D.C. against the Boy Scouts of America. The suit's eight plaintiffs, who contend that they were sexually abused when they were young Scouts, are seeking to get around the statutes of limitation in their own states by arguing that their case should be heard in the nation's capital.
Because Washington, D.C. is where BSA was founded and incorporated, and because Washington has opened a two-year "lookback window" that gives victims a chance to bring claims that were previously barred by statutes of limitation.
In opening that window in 2019, Washington, D.C. joined 24 states in taking steps to give sexual-abuse victims greater opportunity to file claims. California, for instance, has opened a three-year window for potential claims regardless of age.
The eight plaintiffs are not from one of those states, so there's not much they can do about the wrongs that may have been done to them long ago — unless they can convince the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that all former Scouts have a right to sue due to BSA's alleged physical location.
A group of lawyers called Abused in Scouting filed the case in federal district court in Washington, D.C. Jan. 6, saying they sought to hold BSA accountable for "covering up decades of organization-wide sex abuse."
“Plaintiffs should not be denied a remedy by the happenstance that they were abused as a child by a BSA scoutmaster or scout leader in a state without a window statute," their complaint reads.
In a press release issue Jan. 6, the lawyers group said that it now represents 1,551 men who claim to have been molested while they were in the Scouts.
The plaintiffs, however, appear to have an uphill fight on their hands.
First, BSA's national headquarters is in Irving, Texas; not Washington, D.C. Second, none of the plaintiffs live in D.C. Sexual-abuse cases are typically brought in areas where the incidents occurred.
Attorney Phil Cammarata, who represented Bill Clinton accuser Paula Jones and several Bill Cosby accusers, told the Washington Post that the plaintiffs in the Boy Scout case "might have a tough row to hoe."
"They would have to convince a court that somehow, although the act occurred outside of D.C., that the corporation is responsible for the act in D.C.," he told the Post.
The plaintiffs' lawyers, however, argue that BSA should be held responsible in the D.C. court for abuse throughout the country because the federal charter from Congress makes Washington, D.C. it's official home.
The charter requires BSA to deliver an annual report to Congress, and the lawyers argue that the organization has been negligent in not informing Congress that it had been "infiltrated by tens of thousands of pedophiles and that hundreds of thousands of Scouts have suffered sexual abuse. BSA withheld this horrific truth, all while marketing scouting as a safe and moral activity for kids."