Five women who were sexually abused by a scout leader in the 1970s when they were children in a Montana co-ed program sued the Boy Scouts of America on Wednesday, saying the organization should be held responsible for the man’s actions.
The women, who are now in their 50s, say William H. Leininger Jr. repeatedly raped or molested them under the pretense of demonstrating first-aid techniques in the Explorer Scouts program when they were between the ages of 11 and 15.
“They were raped by their scout leader ostensibly when he was supposed to be helping them with their merit badges,” plaintiffs’ attorney Gilion Dumas said in a news conference announcing the lawsuit.
Leininger was convicted in 1976 of abusing the five girls and a sixth who is not involved in the lawsuit. He was convicted again in 1982 of another charge of sexual intercourse without consent, according to Montana Department of Corrections records. Leininger died in prison in 2002 at age 80.
The women’s lawsuit was filed in Cascade County District Court by Dumas and Kelly Clark, who are both from Oregon, and Missoula attorney Matthew Thiel. Clark and Dumas have represented abuse victims in past lawsuits against the Boy Scouts in Oregon, Alaska and Idaho, including a trial last year in which a Portland, Ore., jury ordered the Boy Scouts to pay $18.5 million to a former Scout who suffered sexual abuse as a child.
That Portland case served as a memory trigger for one of the Montana victims, which led to this new lawsuit, Clark said.
The attorneys said the women only discovered over the past year the direct connection between their abuse at the hands of Leininger and the physical, mental and emotional damage they suffer today, which includes personal relationship problems, depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse. They are charging the Boy Scouts of America and the scouts’ Montana Council with sexual battery, infliction of emotional distress, negligence, fraud and malice.
They are asking a judge to award them unspecified monetary damages. Clark said he will trust a jury to decide an appropriate award.
Gordon Rubard, executive director of the Boy Scouts’ Montana Council, which is headquartered in Great Falls, said he could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit because he had not seen it. But, he said, the safety and health of Boy Scouts members are the organization’s top priorities and any individual suspected of abuse is immediately banned from scouting.
“The abuse of anyone, and particularly children, is abhorrent and intolerable – especially to the Boy Scouts of America, for whom the protection and safety of youth is of paramount importance,” Rubard said in a statement.
The women say the abuse started in 1974. In each case, Leininger told the child to remove her clothing so he could demonstrate first-aid bandaging techniques, according to the lawsuit. He then molested and raped each one, and continued to do so for months after that under the pretext of demonstrating the techniques, the document says.
The abuse went on in some cases for a year to 18 months, sometimes on scouting trips in the Northwest and other times in facilities hosting Explorer Scouts functions, according to the lawsuit. It ended and Leininger was arrested after the sixth girl, the one not involved in the lawsuit, told her parents.
Leininger was the head of one of the first Explorer Scout posts after the Boy Scouts opened to girls the program meant to provide training as a bridge to a career or vocation, attorneys for the plaintiffs said. Leininger also was a board member on the scouts’ Montana Council and a Boy Scouts district chairman.
The women say in the lawsuit that the Boy Scouts and the scouts’ Montana Council failed to properly train and supervise Leininger, and even gave him their highest adult award, the Silver Beaver.
The organization should have known Leininger was a risk and it should have warned the parents of the children of that risk, the lawsuit claims. There had been enough instances of sexual molestation at the hands of scout leaders by then that the organization should have foreseen Leininger’s sexual abuse, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said.
Two of the women still live in Montana, while the other three live in Oregon, Illinois and Alaska. They are identified in the lawsuit only by their initials.
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