COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Survivors of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Boy Scouts of America leaders each have thousands of dollars on the line – and potentially days to claim what they’re owed.
If the Ohio Senate does not soon pass a bill entitling survivors to their full amounts granted under the Boy Scouts’ $2.7 billion bankruptcy settlement, nearly 2,000 survivors from Ohio will lose out on more than half of their settlement amounts. At a committee hearing Wednesday morning, Boy Scouts survivors and advocates pleaded with lawmakers to forward the Scout’s Honor Law to the Senate floor, with an emergency provision so it can take effect upon signing.
House Bill 35, which unanimously passed the House in March, would waive the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse claims for Boy Scouts survivors and is the key to unlocking their full settlement amounts.
Under the terms of the bankruptcy settlement, each state’s statute of limitations factors into what survivors hailing from that state can receive. In a state with one of the shortest limitation periods in the country – barring childhood sexual abuse survivors from seeking civil remedy after they turn 30 – Ohio survivors are currently slated to receive between 30 and 45% of what they’re owed.
That means that for every survivor who can receive up to $1.7 million, a survivor in Ohio may get a maximum amount of just more than $630,000.
The Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy in 2020 after collapsing under the weight of the largest child sexual abuse case in U.S. history. Last July, a federal judge solidified plans to disburse $2.7 billion under the Boy Scouts’ bankruptcy settlement to the more than 80,000 survivors who filed claims against the organization for unchecked sexual abuse that spanned decades.
“Survivors weren’t just raped. They were robbed, their voices were stolen, they were systematically silenced,” said Chris Graham, one of the authors of the Scout’s Honor Law.
Graham is not one of the men seeking recourse against the Boy Scouts. But as an outspoken survivor of childhood sexual abuse by church leaders, he said he is called to advocate for fellow survivors, many of whom disclosed their abuse for the first time in lawsuits against the organization.
“Their plan as children was to never tell anybody,” Graham said. “So there’s a lot of healing in doing the exact opposite of that.”
Survivors recouping funds under the expedited claims process have until Oct. 3 to submit documentation to the Boy Scouts’ settlement trust for review and disbursement. Others have a yet-to-be-determined amount to do the same – but the legislature only has a year from the creation of the settlement trust to revise or eliminate the limitations period.
Despite no public opposition to the bill, one of its sponsors, Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), said at a previous committee hearing that several insurance groups and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce were concerned about the “slippery slope” from carving out exceptions to eliminating the limitations period entirely. Seitz has regularly opposed statute of limitations changes, arguing that limitations periods promote fairness in the justice system and ensure that people and institutions do not have to defend themselves against decades-old claims.
But the defense of limitations periods falls flat to survivors who said that the impacts of sexual abuse on their lives are far-reaching and long-lasting.
“I understand that some members of the legislature have an opinion that memories of deep personal trauma can fade over time, and that belief reinforces the need for Ohio to maintain some of the nation’s most restrictive statute of limitations for victims of sexual assault,” testified Seth Porter, a survivor who was abused by a scoutmaster in Chillicothe. “As a victim of sexual assault myself, I can assure you that my memories have not faded over the past 27 years.”
A Child USA survey of more than 1,500 Boy Scouts survivors found that, on average, survivors waited until age 42 to disclose their abuse for the first time. More than 70% of those survivors were abused multiple times.
Senate President Matt Huffman confirmed that the bill would pass as an emergency, allowing it to go into effect upon the governor’s signing.
“We are going to pass it next week, as an emergency, out of the Senate,” Huffman said.
As advocates urged lawmakers to move to allow Boy Scouts survivors to recover 100% of what they’re owed, they’ve also cautioned that the Scout’s Honor Law should not be the last time the legislature touches statutes of limitations.
While Seitz disapproves of broader reform, fellow HB 35 co-sponsor Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park) has introduced legislation that would give most child sexual abuse survivors until age 55 to sue their perpetrators. Emily Gemar, director of public policy at the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, testified Wednesday that the Scout’s Honor Law is a vital step – but just the first of many the legislature should take in securing justice for survivors.
“No legislated caveat to a limitations period for specific groups of survivors will suffice to hold institutions accountable for the distinct trauma of decades-long cover-ups and inaction,” Gemar said. “It only creates a system wherein survivors must lobby the legislature each time an abuse case is uncovered.”