East Texas parents working as Boy Scout of America volunteers want the public to know that youngsters in Scouting are safe from would-be sexual predators because of strict policies in place for years.
“Nothing has been brought to me specifically on these cases,” Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham said Wednesday about the Smith County database offenses that occurred in Tyler.
Unless the sexual abuse offense occurred in Texas in 2007 or later, there is a chance that the offense won't be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has run out, Smith County prosecutors said this week.
Bingham and April Sikes, Smith County assistant district attorney, said Texas lawmakers passed “Jessica's Law” in 2007, which changes the statutes of limitations in certain assault cases involving children. In other offenses, such as sexual performance by a child, or aggravated kidnapping with intent to violate or abuse the child sexually, the statute of limitations is extended to the 38th birthday if the offense occurred before the child was 17.
“If children were abused prior to 2007, there is a good chance some of the statutes have run and some have not. If it happened after 2007, it could still be prosecuted,” Ms. Sikes said on Wednesday.
Prior to 2007, the longest statute of limitations allowed for an offense such as aggravated sexual assault of a child, the most serious of the charges, was 10 years past a child's 18th birthday, or the age of 28, Ms. Sikes said.
The worst part of the law as it was written prior to 2007, was that “it might take some people 20 years just to feel healthy enough just to testify,” Ms. Sikes said.
Lyle Potter, of Upshur County, is a scoutmaster for his 15-year-old son's troop in Ore City. He has been involved with the Scouts since his son was a Tiger Cub Scout, and said he feels good about his son being in the organization. Potter, who was in Scouting as a boy, said that parents must be observant about what is going on with their children.
“Parents must be proactive,” he said.
Geoff Roark is a den leader for Troop 356, which is chartered at Flint and meets at Lane's Chapel United Methodist Church. Roark, whose son is 11, is a part of the troop and Roark also has been involved since his son was a Tiger Cub.
“I am aware of the story, and as a parent and as a leader, it's a black eye for the Scouts,” Roark said on Thursday.
Roark echoes Potter about the need for parents to be involved with their children's activities. “I have been there for every meeting, and I plan to remain involved when my son becomes a Boy Scout.” His son crosses over to Boy Scouts in May, Roark said.
He stressed that there is a section of the Boy Scout manual on child abuse that each parent must sign and return to the leader when his or her child joins the organization.
Roark said there is more awareness now of child abuse than there was in the 1960s, when some of the files were created, and the subject is spoken about more openly and freely now.
“The solution is for a parent to be involved,” he said.
Mike Ballew, who has been the CEO of the East Texas Area Council for 15 years, said all volunteers must submit to a criminal background check before they are allowed to work with youth. “We also have a 'two-deep' leadership policy, which means no adult is ever alone with a child,” Ballew said.
He said any parent who suspects his or her child is being abused should first call the authorities, and then call him. “We first remove the volunteer, then we investigate. We err on the side of the child,” Ballew said.
Background checks can be a powerful deterrent to someone who wants to victimize children, Ballew said. “People who have questionable backgrounds don't apply to be volunteers,” he said.
To access the database, go to http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/10/boy-scouts-face-big-payouts-over-sex-abuse-files-experts-say.html