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Release of Boy Scouts files stirs memories of sexual abuse

Dozens of men contact the L.A. Times to describe how events detailed in the long-hidden documents shaped their lives.

October 26, 2012|By Jason Felch and Kim Christensen, Los Angeles Times
  • Joshua Solomon holds his Boy Scout uniform at his Redwood City home. Solomon kept his uniform in his closet for 30 years, a reminder of the sexual abuse he said he endured as a 12-year-old in Berkeley's Troop 22.
Joshua Solomon holds his Boy Scout uniform at his Redwood City home. Solomon… (David Butow, For The Times )

Joshua Solomon kept his Boy Scouts uniform in his closet for 30 years, a cotton and nylon reminder of the sexual abuse he said he endured — but never reported — as a 12-year-old in Berkeley's Troop 22.

"I've been refusing to let this piece of history die," he said.

Last week, he took the uniform out of the closet. His memories of Scouting — and everything the uniform represents — flooded back with the public release of hundreds of previously confidential files on suspected molesters kept by the youth organization.

DATABASE: Track names, locations

The file on his scoutmaster, Steve Kabeary, indicated that eight years after allegedly abusing Solomon he pleaded no contest to molesting four boys. Kabeary was sentenced to eight years in prison.

"I was kind of blown away by it," Solomon said, describing a mix of regret, anger and relief that welled up while reading the file. "It was validation of what happened to me."

Solomon was one of about 100,000 people who visited a database of 5,000 files and case summaries posted by The Times on suspected sexual abusers in the Boy Scouts. He and dozens of others contacted the newspaper to describe how events detailed in the documents years ago had shaped their lives.

Used for nearly a century by the Boy Scouts of America to prevent suspected molesters from reentering the organization, the files represent a long-hidden record of alleged abuse affecting thousands of men across the country. The allegations range from rape to fondling to showing pornography to children. Many named in the files were never charged with crimes.

More than 1,200 of the files were released last week by order of the Oregon Supreme Court in response to a petition by various media organizations. The Times obtained additional information for its database, which covers cases opened from 1947 to 2005, from a Seattle attorney who has sued the Scouts on behalf of alleged abuse victims.

Many victims and family members who contacted The Times were hoping for answers to long-standing questions: Were they, or their sons or brothers, alone in being abused? Was the accused ever brought to justice?

"It's a long, dark chapter in my family's history that has caused a lot of pain," wrote the sister of one Scout who alleged abuse. "This will help bring some closure to something we have just been mystified by for so long."

For others, the files' release was an opportunity to tell friends and family about a long-buried secret.

"My first reaction was tears," one man wrote in an email. "Then I realized that I had to say something, as many of my friends and family live in a bubble. They think this kinda stuff doesn't happen to people that they know. So I popped the bubble."

On his Facebook page, the man said he was abused by his Florida scoutmaster in the 1980s, writing, "I was one of those boys who didn't want to say no to anyone, nor did I want to be left out."

A friend offered immediate support: "I'm pretty proud to know you right about now."

Several people said they had discovered family members among the alleged perpetrators — sometimes a surprise, but in other cases a sad confirmation of long-standing suspicions.

A 27-year-old Georgia man with an unusual first name called to complain that he was listed in the database erroneously. A quick look at the file revealed that it pertained to a man with the same name who was decades older.

"Oh," the caller said. "That's my grandpa, actually…. I'd always kind of heard stories about him."

Another man named in the files contacted The Times to say he had not molested anyone; at age 22, he said, he'd engaged in a consensual homosexual relationship with a 17-year-old in the troop he led.

Many people expressed disappointment and anger at the Boy Scouts.

"You could see that the Boy Scout council and the church were only concerned about their liability — they could have cared less about us," said Mike Keller, today a 50-year-old businessman in Mississippi.

Keller always figured that his scoutmaster, Richard C. Hokanson, got off lightly — he was sent to a state hospital for treatment after pleading guilty in 1983 to one of three felony sex abuse charges stemming from his tenure with a Rochester, Minn., troop.

His file referred to allegations involving 16 other boys that were documented by Scouting officials but never prosecuted. Keller said his case was among those not pursued.

"When I finished reading that whole file I ended up taking an hour-and-a-half-long shower. No matter how much I washed, I still felt filthy," he said. "The last week has been a living hell, reliving everything."

Hokanson molested him "every Monday night, year in and year out, over six years" ending in 1980, when he made Eagle Scout, Keller said. Hokanson threatened to kill his family if he told anyone about the abuse, which occurred in a storeroom at St. Pius Catholic Church, the troop's sponsor, he said.

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