Army doctor sues Boy Scouts for sexual abuse

SAN DIEGO — An Army doctor who was sexually abused as a teenager by a scoutmaster in San Diego County  sued the Boy Scouts of America Wednesday, alleging negligence.

In the suit, filed in Superior Court in Vista, Army Maj. Drew Belnap said he was plied with alcohol, then sexually assaulted by Scoutmaster John Atwood in 1991 while Belnap was attending Schoepe Scout Reservation at Lost Valley in Warner Springs. The camp is operated by the Orange County Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Belnap was 15 when he met Atwood in 1989.

Atwood — a popular Scout leader — was convicted of multiple sexual abuse offenses in 1992 — including the attack on Belnap — and is now a registered sex offender.

“Drew suffered horrendous abuse, all the more tragic because it was so easily preventable,” said Irwin Zalkin, the lead attorney for Belnap. “Cases like his, and the lessons we learn from them, are critical to holding accountable the institutions that we trust to care for our children.”

The Boy Scouts of America issued a statement regarding Belnap’s lawsuit.

“Scouting extends its deepest sympathies to all victims of abuse and to their families,” the statement read.”Youth protection is of paramount importance to the Boy Scouts of America. Recognizing that this commitment requires sustained vigilance, the BSA has continued to develop and enhance its efforts to protect youth, regularly consulting with experts from law enforcement, child safety, psychology and other disciplines to ensure its efforts consistently evolve along with the ever-changing awareness of the dangers and challenges facing youth.

“The BSA requires background checks, comprehensive training programs for volunteers, staff, youth and parents and mandates reporting of even suspected abuse.”

As an active member of the military, Belnap, now 39, was able to file the lawsuit despite the California statute of limitations because federal law stops the running of any state statute of limitations for the period of time that a person is active duty.

Belnap is currently a Boy Scout Scoutmaster with a troop connected to the Mormon Church.

He said he brought the negligence lawsuit against the Boy Scouts to ensure that what happened to him can never happen to other children today. Belnap said he wants to make sure that the suit will compel the Boy Scouts to take seriously necessary policy changes to protect children from sexual abuse by predators attracted to scouting as a means of gaining access to their prey.

According to the plaintiff, alcohol was available to underage scouts in the early 1990s at Lost Valley, and boys and men would shower naked together in open communal showers and spend time drinking and alone together in the ranger’s cabin and other sleeping facilities.

Despite a 1987 Boy Scout rule that there was to be no one-on-one alone time between a scout and an adult scout leader, witnesses observed Atwood leaving camping activities alone with a young scout to spend long stretches in the woods or in a cabin. At least one scout leader was sexually assaulted by Atwood years prior to his abuse of Belnap and two other boys in 1991, the plaintiff said.

15 comments

  • tinykhan

    This Army Doc is so full of BS. The guy was arrested 1 year after alleged assault. Now, 22 years later, he wants to sue to to force the Boy Scouts to change their policies? Uh, pretty sure they have done that since this happened. SO what is real motive? How much money is he asking for?

    • truebob

      I agree. The scouts have a more comprehensive Youth Protection Program and take it very seriously. I have personally been told by the Scoutmaster after a meeting I couldn't leave until a scout was picked up by his parent because we had to have "2 deep" adults and I was the last one left besides him. Alcohol is not permitted on scout sponsored trips or camping. I understand his need to address what happened to him, but a lawsuit against the organization isn't about that, it's about money, period. Honestly, knowing that he has been the victim of child abuse, I wouldn't feel comfortable having him in charge of my son.

  • Jwilk

    You're the one full of BS tinykahn, who are you to judge when a person feels able to finally go public about something like that?

    • Guest

      Gee, he went through high school, apparently college, and boot camp. He never felt 'strong enough'? And, sorry, but I was in high school when I was 15. I was never large or muscularly outstanding, but the guy would have had to drug me somehow to 'take advantage' of me.

  • VivianWard

    This reminds me a bit of Anita Hill. If this doctor kept his mouth shut for the past twenty plus years, he shouldn't be allowed to proceed now. If the abuse had never been brought to light, that would be one thing, but Dr. Belnap's abuser was convicted way back then. Something's fishy about this story, and I think tinykhan may be onto something.

  • carolineredbrook

    This case as well as the cases of accused pedophiles Sylvain Kustyan, Ariel Castro and Jerry Sandusky show that we must catch them BEFORE they prey on our innocent children for years! Castro and Sandusky are behind bars, but Kustyan (formally charged with two counts each of 1st Degree Sodomy and Sexual Abuse of a ten-year-old little boy) fled the US and is currently a fugitive from the law. Kustyan, formerly of Tuscaloosa, AL and France, is thought to be in Europe. As the recidivism rate among pedophiles is virtually 100% it is imperative that we stop them ASAP! As far as the Boy Scouts' role, pedophile enablers must be held just as responsible as the predators themselves because it is the enablers who allow these menaces to our children's welfare to continue to abuse for decades and therefore victimize oftentimes hundreds more victims each!

    • Guest

      "…show that we must catch them BEFORE they prey on our innocent children for years!" Sounds a lot like Minority Report. That worked so well for Tom Cruise.

  • tmccoy

    Just because the victim is only now telling what happened to him when he was young, doesn't mean he should not be believed! It's those judgemental attitudes that make it impossible for children to come forward, thus giving these monsters the freedom and time to destroy more lives. Do you really think as an adult it's easy to expose one's past for all the world to scrutinize?! Think about that for a minute. I say bravo!

  • tmccoy

    …and if all the haters would read the entire story, they would see that he DID tell another scoutleader and he also told his parents. How is it fair to hold a 15yr old responsible for what adults failed to do on his behalf?

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