A man who grew up in Maine says he was the victim of sexual abuse as a child during events at Camp Hinds, a Boy Scouts of America facility in Raymond. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Keith Auspland doesn’t get to reminisce about Boy Scout experiences that were supposed to build character. He carries darker memories that have contributed to depression, substance use and relationship problems throughout his life.

“There were certain courses my life took after that,” said Auspland, 57, who grew up in Portland and now lives in Indiana. “I stopped playing baseball. I thought maybe I was homosexual. Now I just think: What the hell would my life be if this never happened to me?”

During a Boy Scout camping trip when he was 12, Auspland and five other boys were sexually assaulted by an uncle of one of the other boys in his troop. He’s now among more than 9,000 men across the country, including nearly 100 in Maine, who have signed on to a class action lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America alleging abuse while they were members of the organization that was once synonymous with boyhood.

Keith Auspland Photo courtesy of Keith Auspland

Andrew Van Arsdale of AVA Law Group in California, one of the lead attorneys on the case, said when his law firm got involved, he didn’t have a sense of how far-reaching the scandal would be.

“From my standpoint, I’ve been working on this for 21 months, and you almost get numb to the stories,” he said. “But sexual abuse of a minor doesn’t just affect the child. It affects their future spouse and children and friends. The repercussions are so far-reaching.”

The class action suit is unusual in that it was filed after the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy protection in Delaware to deal with an onslaught of lawsuits. In March a federal judge set a deadline of Nov. 16 for men to come forward or they would no longer have any means to make claims because the 105-year-old organization would be dissolved. To find more victims, the consortium of law firms representing survivors created a website, Abusedinscouting.com, and has been advertising heavily on cable TV.

If each suit were to go to a civil trial individually, Van Arsdale said, some could result in seven-figure settlements.

“We’re in bankruptcy, so we’re not there, but it’s not going to be $500 either,” he said, explaining that any offer by the Boy Scouts would need to be approved by attorneys and a judge. “It will have to be a substantial amount of money put up. This isn’t ‘I patted Charlie on the backside after he climbed the rope ladder.’ This is violent sodomy, in some cases, over a period of many years. It’s horrifying.”

The Boy Scouts of America has not answered questions about specific allegations but has offered a broad apology to anyone who was harmed while in scouting and has pledged to “equitably compensate victims.”

“We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our program to abuse innocent children,” the organization said in a statement. “We believe victims, we support them, we pay for counseling by a provider of their choice and we encourage them to come forward.”

The class action lawsuit wouldn’t have been possible without a decision eight years earlier by the Oregon Supreme Court ordering the release of internal Boy Scouts of America records that became known as its “perversion files.” The files, which covered the 25-year period from 1960 to 1985, offer a detailed look at how the organization gathered information about suspected molestation and abuse by leaders and volunteers but then kept it secret.

For survivors like Auspland, money is a distant second to accountability. In most states, including Maine, the statute of limitations for criminal charges has expired. This is all that’s left.

He is among four Maine survivors – each of whom joined the lawsuit after seeing advertisements – who agreed to share their stories.

‘WHY DID HE CHOOSE ME?’

Walter Conlin, who grew up in Washington County, joined the Boy Scouts in 1983, following some friends. The troop met at the U.S. Navy’s telecommunications station in Cutler. That’s where the abuse occurred.

The assistant scout leader, C.J., was part of the Navy contingent there. One night camping, he forced Conlin to fondle him.

“I was just frozen in fear,” he said. “I didn’t really know what was happening.”

Conlin told an older Scout member the next morning, who then informed the troop leader. Conlin said he remembers the leader and C.J. talking at length. After that, C.J. avoided Conlin.

Conlin told his mother, but she never went to police.

“She was a loving mother, but she didn’t know how to handle it,” he said. “She wanted me to pretend nothing happened.”

So that’s what he did.

Camp Hinds is a Boy Scouts of America facility in the Cumberland County town of Raymond. According to men with Maine ties who have joined a class action lawsuit against the youth organization, the camp was the scene of alleged sexual abuse decades ago. The lawsuit has been joined by thousands of men in the U.S. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When a Navy intelligence officer interviewed Conlin after receiving information about possible abuse by C.J., the boy lied. What he didn’t say was that two weeks earlier he had been walking home when C.J. drove past him and pulled over.

“He said if I told anyone, he’d hurt me and my family,” Conlin said.

Conlin never went back to the Boy Scouts, but the experience didn’t go away.

“I was teased about it because some other people found out. It’s a small town,” he said. “I remember being called gay and questioning my own sexuality. I don’t know what it was about me that made me vulnerable, you know? Why did he choose me?”

He started doing worse in school, he said. When he got older, he started drinking and didn’t stop for a long time.

“Alcohol took over my life,” he said.

He’s four years sober now.

He has a grown daughter and is divorced from a woman who had a daughter from a previous relationship. He said he had a hard time connecting with them and showing affection.

Conlin said joining the lawsuit seemed like a way to finally put it past him.

“When I first started filling out the paperwork with the lawyers and answering questions, I started having nightmares. I felt like drinking again,” Conlin said. “In some ways, it feels good to talk about it, but it’s a Catch-22. It brings back that fear, too, and a lot of unpleasant memories.”

‘ANYTHING CAN TRIGGER IT’

Don was in fourth grade in the 1960s when he joined the Boy Scouts in Lewiston-Auburn. He was one of the youngest in his troop.

He said his abuser was skilled in grooming behavior. He offered to tutor him, even went to his parents and the principal at school to get the OK.

“It was just a pretext for him to get me alone,” said Don, who asked that his last name be withheld because he hasn’t told his family or friends. “He’d pull me aside at the church where we met, or he’d say he forgot something back at his office and bring me with him.”

Don said he was scared to death. Sexual abuse wasn’t something that was talked about. His parents never knew.

Unlike some others, Don stayed in scouts for more than a year after the abuse. He remembers seeing his abuser at a winter campout at Camp Hinds in Raymond the next year.

“He showed up … out of the blue,” Don said. “And he had another little boy with him. It didn’t take me but two seconds to figure out what was going on. He found a new toy.”

Don, now 61, said he suffered psychologically for years. Depression. Nightmares.

“It’s just something that’s always there,” he said. “Anything can trigger it.”

He’s had physical problems as well, too graphic to share.

He never talked about his abuse, not even with his wife. One night this year, they were watching TV and saw the Abusedinscouting.com ad.

“She said, ‘Don, you were in scouting. That stuff doesn’t really happen, right?’ Before I’d even realized what I was saying, I said, ‘Yes, it does,’” he said.

Being able to hold the institution accountable means something, he said, and if a few bucks come his way, that’s OK, too. But he’s conflicted.

“To be totally honest, I learned a lot of good things in scouting. It wasn’t totally bad,’ Don said.

A couple of years ago, Don ran into his abuser.

“I really thought about caving his head in, but I’m not a violent guy and I’d prefer not to go to jail,” he said. “You know back then, he seemed like such a big man to me. Now he’s just fragile.”

‘I FIGURED I’D GO TO MY GRAVE WITH THIS STUFF’

Michael, 56, grew up in Vermont and was part of a Boy Scouts troop based in Burlington that often came to Maine for camping trips and other activities.

It was on one of those trips to Maine in 1974 that he was abused by a Scout leader he knew only as Carl. He was 10.

“I don’t know exactly how, but somehow I got put in his tent when we were going to sleep,” said Michael, who asked that his last name not be published because he’s still embarrassed by the abuse. “That’s when things took a turn for the worse.”

Michael didn’t know what to do. He didn’t scream or fight. He was paralyzed. Carl, he said, told him not to worry.

“He said, ‘No one is going to think this is bad, and no one will know,’” Michael recalled.

Carl abused him again on another visit to Maine later that year. When the season ended, Michael said he quit Boy Scouts and never talked about what happened.

For decades, Michael tried to push the abuse aside.

“I figured I’d go to my grave with this stuff,” he said.

After an accident in 2017 that severely injured his spinal cord, Michael stopped working as a house painter. He spends a fair amount of time watching TV, and this year started seeing the advertisements.

“It brought back a lot of memories,” he said. “I thought, this sounds just like the churches. I figured, there was no reason someone should be able to get away with molesting a child.”

Michael said Carl didn’t pay attention only to him – there were other boys – but it altered the rest of his childhood.

“I thought for a while that maybe I liked men. That was my only (sexual) experience,” Michael said.

The confusion carried into adulthood, he said, and led to trouble, the worst of which was a five-year term in prison for drug charges. He’s since talked to a psychiatrist and feels like he’s on a better path. He has a girlfriend of 12 years but no children. He said talking about what happened, first to the attorneys and then to a reporter, was healing.

“I’m not a vengeful person, but I hope he gets what’s coming to him,” Michael said of his abuser.

‘I WAS SO ANGRY’

Keith Auspland was first exposed to sexual misconduct by his Boy Scout troop leader, in Portland in the mid-1970s. The leader would invite boys to lounge with him in the nude and fondle them. Some were sodomized, Auspland later learned.

“In 1975, when I was 12, there was no indication something like that was going to happen,” he said. “If you were an average American white male, you were in Scouts.”

More horror arrived during a campout at Camp Hinds. The uncle of another Scout member took Auspland and five other boys from the camp to his place and took turns abusing them.

Ironically, the Scout leader found out and asked the boys about it. Auspland talked to police and got a medical exam. He had to go before a grand jury. He had to tell his parents.

“I don’t know if he was ever convicted or not,” Auspland said. “I don’t even know his name.”

The leader, though, was never charged for abusing the boys.

Auspland said he’d planned to stay in Scouts until he earned the high rank of Eagle Scout, but he ended up dropping out.

He joined the Air Force after high school and stayed six years. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he joined the Army National Guard in Vermont, where he had moved, and then enlisted in the Army. He retired for medical reasons in 2014 but not before using the final 18 months of his military service to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in social work. He planned to start on a Ph.D. before the pandemic hit.

He’s been married and divorced twice. He’s struggled with alcoholism. He’s attempted suicide.

Through counseling, he’s been able to trace everything back to what happened when he was 12.

“I was so angry,” he said. “I wasn’t handling what happened.”

Auspland said he has mixed emotions knowing there are so many other survivors.

“I don’t want to say I’ve made peace with this, because I think about it daily,” he said. “But I’ve started to forgive myself for feeling so shameful, for shame I’ve carried around 35 or 40 years. I’m standing up finally. I hope this will help give me some kind of closure.”

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