DAVENPORT, Iowa — A Georgia man filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Boy Scouts of America, contending he was sexually abused as a teenager by a nationally prominent Iowa scoutmaster in the 1970s.
Attorneys for the man, a 50-year-old professional who is married with children, said he was sexually abused in 1977 and 1978 by Davenport scoutmaster John “Tim” Bawden, who died in 1992. The lawsuit, filed in Iowa state court, contends the Boy Scouts and its local affiliate, the ILLowa Council, Inc., failed to warn about the risk of sexual abuse and failed to supervise Bawden.
Unlike other cases alleging abuse of minors by male volunteers, attorney Kelly Clark of Portland, Ore., said the case was unusual because Bawden was “a big deal.” Bawden served on the Boy Scouts’ national council for years and received two of the highest honors in scouting.
The Iowa case is the latest in a national wave of litigation related to childhood sexual abuse against the Boy Scouts, which is now praised for its policies meant to prevent abuse. Clark is the go-to lawyer, filing roughly 40 cases in a dozen states after winning a landmark $18.5 million verdict in Oregon in 2010. On Tuesday, he filed a lawsuit in Connecticut on behalf of two men who claim they were abused by a scoutmaster in the 1980s.
The lawsuits contend scouting officials had a national system dating back to the 1920s to track volunteers who had been suspected of child abuse. While the organization has argued the system shows they were trying to stop abuse, Clark said it shows they failed to make changes to prevent boys from being targeted by pedophiles and to warn parents of the potential risks.
Tom McDermott, CEO of the ILLowa chapter, said he had not been notified of the lawsuit and could not comment on any allegations. He released a statement from the national group saying “abuse is — and has always been — unacceptable” and that the Boy Scouts were taking preventive measures, such as training leaders and prohibiting one-on-one contact between youth and adults.
McDermott said he did not know Bawden, who received the Silver Beaver and Silver Antelope awards that honor outstanding local and regional leaders. A spokesman for the national group, which is based in Irving, Texas, declined comment.
Attorney Patrick Hopkins of West Des Moines, who is co-representing the Georgia man, said the abuse happened around scouting events held at a school and “at various times when there was one-on-one contact with Mr. Bawden.” The alleged victim, referred to in the lawsuit only as John Doe (hash)1, became an Eagle Scout — the highest rank in the program — before moving away from Iowa for college, Hopkins said.
Clark said he expected the Boy Scouts to seek to dismiss the case, potentially on grounds that the statute of limitations has expired. He and Hopkins, however, are confident it could move forward, as Iowa law has a two-year statute of limitations that doesn’t start until the abuse is fully discovered and recognized. In this case, the man only recently “broke through his denial” and realized he’d been abused, Clark said.
“The plaintiff has only recently come to grips with what happened to him as a kid,” Clark said. “He said, ‘Tim Bawden may have been a good guy and a big deal, but what he did to me was not okay. It was child abuse.’ “
In an interview in Davenport before filing the lawsuit, Clark said he doesn’t know specifically what the Boy Scouts knew about any suspected abuse by Bawden.
Clark acknowledged that his nationwide litigation could have an impact on the Boy Scouts’ finances, but noted the group is a $1 billion enterprise with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets.
In the Iowa case, Clark said the Boy Scouts knew by the 1970s they had a major problem with pedophiles but did not stop the abuse.
“They knew everything they needed to know,” he said.