Gordon Rubard has spent almost his entire life in the Boy Scouts of America. First as a young scout growing up in California and now living in Great Falls as the executive director of the Montana Council, Rubard has devoted his life to one of the nation’s largest and most prominent youth development organizations.
So when a lawsuit recently shed light on a dark series of events that took place in a Boy Scouts program in Kalispell over 30 years ago, Rubard was horrified to his core.
The lawsuit filed in Great Falls on Sept. 7 claims more than 100 separate incidents of sexual abuse and rape of five girls ranging between the ages of 11 and 14 by adult scout leader William H. Leininger, Jr. starting in 1974.
Attorneys for the five women who are now in their 50s and live across the Pacific Northwest filed the lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and its Montana Council, accusing both organizations of “institutional negligence.”
The document claims the BSA “knew that Scout leader and volunteer positions were being used by predatory child molesters to gain access to and victimize children, and that (the BSA) had an institution-wide or systematic child abuse problem.”
Another lawsuit was recently filed in Oregon against BSA and its Portland district after four men came forward and said they suffered sex abuse between the ages of 12 and 14 by a Scout leader in the late 1970s.
Today, at the peak of recruiting season with schools back in session, Rubard and others involved in the Boy Scouts both nationally and locally find themselves having to defend the safety of the organization’s present-day environment for children.
“We’re horrified by the events that took place back in the early 1970s, but we believe we have a program where the chances of that happening now are far, far less because of all the things we’re now doing,” Rubard said.
Compared to over 30 years ago when the abuses took place, adult leaders today are given thorough background checks, sent through “youth protection training” and have to follow a “Two-Deep Leadership” policy that prevents any scout from being alone with an adult at any time.
“In the course of the last 20 years, we’ve added many, many more layers of protection to our program to help prevent a predator from having access to a scout,” Rubard said.
Currently, there are roughly 8,000 Boy Scouts members across the state and more than 800 in Flathead County, Rubard said.
The women, who were not named in the lawsuit, say Leininger raped and sexually abused them frequently while part of a co-ed Explorer Scouts program that was based in town and traveled the region.
One woman, who was 12 years old at the time, says in the lawsuit she was raped two to three times a month for roughly 18 months. In another instance, the lawsuit says Leininger frequently gave another woman, 11 years old at the time, alcohol and sexually abused her dozens of times.
At the time of these incidents, Leininger was serving as Scoutmaster for two troops and was district chairman among other prominent roles he filled in the organization. The same year the lawsuit says the sexual abuse started occurring, 1974, Leininger was awarded the Boy Scouts’ highest adult honor, the Silver Beaver award.
Leininger’s transgressions first came to light when another girl not associated with the current lawsuit told her parents about an incident. Then in 1976 Leininger was convicted of six counts of sexual intercourse without consent and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Six years later, separate charges were brought after two girls in Anaconda claimed similar incidents occurred and he was sentenced to an additional 30 years. Leininger, 80, died in prison in 2002.
“Any case of abuse is one case too many,” Rubard said. “If you look back, it was an issue of a guy who was on his own with kids. We no longer allow that and we haven’t for quite a long time. Now I think if you talk to our members they all know that if there’s something that they’re uncomfortable with they’ve been taught that you immediately go to an adult and report it.”
Rubard, who moved to Montana seven years ago and took over as head of staff for the state’s Boy Scouts programs, said scouts are taught early on to use the Three R’s – Recognize, Resist and Report – in any situation that feels uncomfortable.
“I’ve watched the evolution of things that we do to protect all of our members,” he said. “They’re considerable.”
Local Scout leader Sue Holst, who is the organization’s district executive in Flathead County, became involved with the program three-and-a-half years ago because of her passion to advocate for children, she said.
The recent news of past child abuse reflects a far different period for the organization, she said.
“I guess my hope would be that the public is aware of all the wonderful things that are happening for all the young men and women in this day and age,” she said. “You can’t compare today’s standards to 30 years ago. It’s apples and oranges.”
Holst said the current recruitment of scouts is going well and that she isn’t seeing numbers drop because of concerns stemming from the lawsuit.
“Everyone within the organization is excited to share the opportunities with the young men and women in the program,” she said. “Their focus is not on a lawsuit or the negativity surrounding it, but providing a quality program and helping the kids out. Hopefully our community will have faith in that.”