When I was 12, I took the Boy Scout Oath. And as I earned merit badges, I tried to obey the Scout Law: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
The boys in my Copperhead Patrol and Troop 39 in Chapel Hill really thought that the Boy Scouts of America stood for God and Country and that scouting would help us be morally straight.
We were wrong.
Around 1960, Lamar Hicks was selected to be the scoutmaster of Troop 39. As Hicks helped the troop win awards, many people placed him on a pedestal. Thanks to the release of the BSA's self-proclaimed "perversion files" and testimonials such as mine, we now know that, in fact, Hicks was a pedophile, a predator on young boys. Although he ran the troop from the basement at University Methodist Church on Franklin Street, he destroyed dozens of boys' childhoods and their families.
Here is how I became Hicks' victim. One day in 1960, he invited me to the Green Bar Room, the church's basement where quartermaster supplies were kept. He told me to sit on the edge of a table and drop my shorts. Because local parents had portrayed him as a demigod, I had never questioned his authority. So I did what he suggested and revealed my privates. He pointed to my genitals and told me what he claimed was sexual information.
I remember this incident, perhaps because it was so utterly different from anything that had ever happened. I felt as if I were watching a movie.
The following year, there were three other incidents, the last occurring at a Scout reserve in Canada during the summer of 1961. One morning, at Hicks' request, I sat in his tent, adjacent to the flaps. I was sitting cross-legged when he raised his hand and put it over my lap. Just then another boy walked by and stared inside. Hicks suddenly recoiled and looked embarrassed. I was stunned by something that I could not put into words. Thoughts raced through my mind: Was he guilty of something? Was I doing something bad?
And then ... eureka! I absolutely knew he had no right to ever touch me again. I could see he was stone-faced as I ran out of the tent.
When I returned to my home in Chapel Hill, I had terrible nightmares. During one awful night, I remember thinking that Hicks had come into my bedroom and was about to touch me. I screamed and kicked the picture window. Luckily, the Venetian blinds were pulled so I did not break the panes.
Panic-stricken, my mother ran into the room. "What is wrong?" she yelled.
I thought I would somehow be blamed. I had to cover up the awful truth. "Nothing! Nothing! Leave me alone!" I yelled.
Now it is 2013 and finally we have the truth about Hicks and more than 1,000 other pedophiles. In the BSA files, I was amazed to find the infamous Mr. Hicks. A newspaper clipping shows that, after leaving Troop 39, he continued abusing children, but thanks to an alert school official in Greensboro, Hicks was charged with a felony, was convicted and served a year in prison.
For at least 50 years, the BSA covered up these crimes, but because the organization was forced to reveal its secrets, we know that at least 1,200 scoutmasters were known to have abused children. Most of the scoutmasters had to leave their troops, but virtually none was reported to law enforcement. Each was free to abuse again.
The BSA has not been trustworthy, brave or reverent. It has been distrustful, cowardly and disloyal. By refusing to stop criminal acts, it promoted evil. It enabled heinous crimes to continue. It allowed children and families to be destroyed. It fought to hide the truth. It never apologized. It has never sought out the former scouts and their families. Scouting is a great concept, but it became a nightmare.
What to do now? Here are a few ideas:
1. Find out what really happened in every community. To regain its credibility, each troop must tell the truth. My own troop, like others, has never sought the truth or apologized to a single victim.
2. In each building that houses a troop, convene an abuse survivors' group. Open a safe space for victims, their families and friends to share.
3. Insist that the BSA be inclusive. If it refuses, then deny the BSA a place to meet.
Last year I spoke out about the abuse I endured. As a result, many people contacted me, and most said something like this: "I was abused by my (brother, mother, father, boyfriend) and I never told anyone. Thank you for helping me honestly confront my past. Thank you for casting light on the darkness. Now I can talk."
This article appeared in print with the headline "The troubles of Troop 39."