The facts are true. The victim’s name is fictitious. John Smith’s story of the mental hell inflicted on him by a molester is not unique. It is worthwhile knowing. All we ever learn in the press is that a molester has been arrested. The aftermath of molestation is rarely reported in the detail necessary to fully understand and appreciate the lifetime impact. John’s story is common to all of the children I have represented, differing only in degree.
John retained me in 2016 for multiple molestations he suffered as a Boy Scout in Virginia. His lawsuit required a Virginia lawyer. I selected Patrick Malone to take the lead in John’s lawsuit as my co-counsel in Virginia. Patrick is a nationally recognized lawyer and safety advocate in Washington D.C., who represents seriously injured people. He is famous among plaintiff’s lawyers as the author of Rules of the Road– A Plaintiff’s Lawyer Guide to Proving Liability. This article is an edited version of a summary required in by the Bankruptcy Court in numerous lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of America.
The Molestation of a Twelve-Year-Old
From 2004 to 2006, John Smith was repeatedly sexually abused by Carl Ballinger, an adult volunteer with Troop 912, located in Fort Lee, Virginia, and part of the Heart of Virginia Council of the Boy Scouts. Ballinger, now a major, confessed to the abuse as part of a court-martial proceeding in 2016, which resulted in his imprisonment for two years and dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Army without benefits, one year short of his 20th year in the military.
In 2017, Smith filed suit against the Boy Scouts of America and the Heart of Virginia Council in the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond, Virginia. The action was stayed when the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy on February 18, 2020 as a result of an avalanche of molestation claims across the country. John was deposed that same day.
Ballinger began abusing John when he was 12 years old. Ballinger was a 29-year-old single man with no children and had no obvious reason for wanting to be involved with the Boy Scouts. He had no connection to Troop 912 before volunteering to help lead and supervise its youth members. Ballinger was a U.S. Army Captain stationed at Fort Lee when he molested John.
The adult leadership of Troop 912 repeatedly violated the Boy Scout’s “no one-on-one contact rule,” allowing Mr. Ballinger to be alone with John repeatedly over the course of several years. This occurred at regular scout meetings, during car trips, and at overnight stays at the Scout Hut located at Fort Lee, Virginia.
As John says, the abuse “followed a ritual pattern,” where Ballinger abused him at almost every weekly troop meeting for two years.
Scoutmaster Phillip Hagerich repeatedly let Ballinger have one-on-one contact with John, which allowed for Ballinger’s sexual abuse.
In John’s words, if the troop was traveling, Ballinger would “put his arm around me and he would go, ‘Smith is with me.’” Ballinger would then drive alone with Smith and would abuse him as they drove. John recalled at his deposition that when this abuse would happen in Ballinger’s car, on the way to a camping trip, John would “count the songs because I know it’s like an hour-and-a-half drive there, and it’s dark outside and there’s woods, and I would have no phone and it’s just me and him in the car. I tried to sit in the back seat. He tells me to sit in the front, and then I’m just thinking to myself maybe it won’t go that far this time, you know. Maybe it will be a little less. Maybe you’ll get lucky today, you know. And maybe it’s not going to be so bad.”
But Ballinger, like all predators, didn’t stop.
Making matters much worse, Hagerich witnessed several incidents in which Ballinger was sexually abusing John and did nothing to stop it. One instance occurred when Hagerich walked into the Scout Hut while Ballinger was abusing John, and Ballinger quickly withdrew his hand from inside John’s pants. Hagerich then asked to speak to Ballinger privately and when Ballinger returned, he did not abuse John for the rest of that evening. Hagerich knew that Ballinger was acting inappropriately towards John and thought he could end it by simply telling Ballinger to stop.
It goes without saying that Hagerich was derelict in his duty to protect a boy in his Troop from the risk of being sexually abused by an adult leader.
On multiple occasions Hagerich observed Ballinger sitting beside John, in the back of the Scout Hut, behind other scouts, in the dark and would leave the room without comment and without correcting the situation despite a clear violation of the no one-on-one contact rule.
Ballinger’s abuse of John only ended when he was given a new station and left Fort Lee and Troop 912.
Ballinger’s abuse of John would not have happened if the Boy Scouts had performed a proper background check of Ballinger which would have showed that in 1994 Ballinger was arrested for sexually assaulting a nine-year-old boy that he was babysitting in Columbia, Missouri.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigation into Ballinger’s abuse of Smith had no difficulty discovering this arrest and obtaining the Boone County Missouri Sherriff’s report detailing this incident. Yet the background check performed by the Boy Scouts did not discover this obviously disqualifying incident when it searched Ballinger’s history.
Lifetime Impact of Sexual Abuse
John has experienced severe emotional distress for years and it continues.
At first, as a teenager, he began to have difficulty with anxiety and depression, which resulted in his grades suffering. When John was about 15, he told his father about Ballinger’s abuse. But his father reacted defensively, saying to him, “Why are you telling me this? Why are you telling me this now?” before storming out of the room. This made John more depressed and he began drinking heavily and smoking marijuana and seriously considered suicide. This further angered his father, who reacted to John being suicidal by telling him, “It’s so easy . . . all you have to do is live. You don’t have to do anything, just live.”
As a result of severe mental distress, John was admitted as an in-patient in a psychiatric hospital for six days.
During this time, John remained a scout with Troop 912, mostly to satisfy his father’s wish for him to become an Eagle Scout. At both school and in the troop, John was ostracized because of his mental hospital admission. John ultimately left the Boy Scouts during his senior year of high school, and at the same time, enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps, which began after graduation.
In the Marine Corps, John attended the Defense Language Institute, where he excelled, earning an Associate’s Degree in Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines, and also studying Yakan, a rare Philippine dialect spoke on Basilan Island, where there is a U.S. military presence and where John was ultimately assigned. John was given a security clearance and was making $104,000 a year as a Corporal and linguist in the Marine Corps.
However, at the same time, John was still suffering from depression and anxiety (and what would later be diagnosed as PTSD) stemming from his childhood abuse. When he was 19, John reported to his unit’s Uniformed Victim Advocate that Ballinger had abused him, and that he wanted to report the abuse to the police. John felt guilty that he had not reported the abuse earlier and wanted to prevent Ballinger from abusing other children. This led to John reporting Ballinger to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and, through the intervention of his father, the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID), which in turn led to Ballinger being arrested and court-martialed.
After he reported Ballinger’s conduct to the Uniformed Victim Advocate, John was sent to a Marine counselor at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Unfortunately, this supposed counselor “devil dogged,” John – essentially telling him to “pack away” his depression and anxiety as the result of his abuse, and “keep moving.”
This only made John “feel worse that there’s something wrong with me that I can’t get over this or something.” (Id.) John requested to see a civilian therapist, which the military allowed, and he began seeing a psychologist in Honolulu. Over six months, John felt like he “made the most progress” greater than with any therapist he had ever seen.
Unfortunately, due to receiving therapy and anti-depressant medication, John was stripped of his security clearance. John was not allowed to serve as a linguist, a perfect career for him, without a security clearance, and as he neared the end of his five-year enlistment period, he was assigned to a unit “mowing lawns” before eventually working in personnel “doing spreadsheets.” This was not what John wanted for his life, and because he felt it was unlikely that his security clearance would be reinstated on appeal, he decided not to reenlist for another five-year period.
John has had a difficult time adjusting to civilian life after the Marines. He was initially recruited to be a police officer/firefighter in Northern California. John thought this would be the perfect job for him, because, in his own words, “I thought I could protect other people and somehow by doing that, that would make me feel better about what happened to me instead of feeling like a victim.”
But John experienced extreme anxiety as a police officer, resulting in him “freezing up” during traffic stops and “not getting to places in a reasonable amount of time.” John’s superiors made it clear to him that he would be fired if he didn’t quit first, which he did.
John explained the anxiety that he has experienced ever since he was abused as a child by Ballinger, and which resulted in him struggling to be a police officer:
18 A well, I mean, in many ways it — well the
19 environment, in general, is stressful. Everything
20 from the academies to the — actually once you’re
21 on the street is stressful. The PTO program, the
22 training program is designed to be stressful.
1 I had to remediate even some of the
2 training in the academy itself because sometimes I
3 would kind of freeze. And then, later on, that
4 was an issue for me. And a lot of times it would
5 be an issue in terms of, kind of like, having an
6 anxiety attack and then having difficulty with
7 remembering how to get to where I’m going. To
8 like with the — with like the actual navigation.
9 Like on one instance, it took me a really long
10 time to get on scene. I almost don’t even want to
11 say because it’s embarrassing.
12 But — or times where — yeah, basically I
13 froze and then other officers, more or less kind
14 of, jumped in and dealt with it. So it was really
15 frequent. I mean, you could — I guess — like if
16 you were to look at it this way, I’m there for
17 like close to two years in total, but not quite, I
18 think. Most of that time was training. I
19 remember having an anxiety attack when I was doing
20 the firefighter training. And then people thought
21 I was like — they thought I was like maybe having
22 exhaustion or something like that, but I was
1 really, kind of like, hyperventilating. And I
2 shake a lot sometimes. And anyway it happened a
4 I can remember a time — and then also
5 like when I would go home, I would go upstairs to
6 my closet. And I’d turn the light out and then
7 I’d get on the floor. And I would just kind of
8 like cry, and sometimes I’d just kind of have a
9 panic attack. Or just kind of like let it out and
10 kind of breathe a lot for a while until I could go
11 downstairs. I have had anxiety issues ever since
12 this, and then it makes like other things that are
13 stressful, like worse.
14 And then it’s like my body now reacts to
15 the stress and I also, one other issue that was
16 shitty was — and they told me this in the
17 military. And they thought it was related, was I
18 have like IBS, irritable bowel syndrome. But my
19 stomach gets into knots all the time. And I feel
20 nauseous when I get stressed out. And when I get
21 stressed out, I feel like I have to use the
22 bathroom. And there’s a lot of times it’s really
1 inconvenient to go to the bathroom, especially as
2 a police officer. You can’t go to the public
3 restrooms, generally. You have a gun on, you
4 can’t just go use a urinal.
5 So it created a lot of extra issues.
. . . .
16 I mean, in looking back on it I’m like yeah, with
17 my — with how I am, I guess yeah, it — it’s
18 probably — it’s not smart for me to even do that
19 job. It’s not really a good idea with this. But
20 I feel like if I didn’t have this anxiety problem,
21 then I think I would have been a good fit, but I
22 think that’s really kind of, but yeah. I mean, in
1 terms of specific times, I mean, it happened often
2 and frequently.
. . . .
7 I’m only on the street for two months or a month and a
8 half before I wash out. I wasn’t doing well with
9 the stress. Yeah. I’ve just kind of come to the
10 conclusion that I really just can’t do a
11 high-stress job anymore. It’s just not something
12 that I can do anymore. I need to do something
13 that’s not as stressful and, yeah.
John lost out on what would have been a stable and good-paying job, due to the trauma caused by Ballinger’s abuse.
After “washing out” of the police force, John worked a series of sales jobs before beginning work towards a college degree. He is majoring in social and behavioral science with a concentration in social history. His goal is to teach history at the high school or college level.
John is married and has two sons, ages three and one. It has been hard for John to support his family now that he is a student, which he is hoping will lead to a stable, good-paying job after graduation.
As a direct result of Ballinger’s abuse, John has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, including flashbacks and intrusive memories; avoidance of touching or being alone with younger children, including his own; difficulty forming relationships; feelings of guilt and estrangement; difficulties with concentration; major depressive disorder with inpatient psychiatric hospitalization; suicidality; feelings of hopelessness; daily symptoms of depression; binge eating disorder; impaired academic performance which now limits his career options; panic disorder; and alcohol and substance abuse.
Richard J. Shaw, M.D., a psychiatrist and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, and a specialist in the field of sexual abuse of minors, examined John in 2018.
Summarizing his prognosis for John, Dr. Shaw noted:
The fact that Mr. Smith has suffered from symptoms of PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, Binge-Eating Disorder and Panic Disorder almost continuously for over ten years suggests that his prognosis is guarded at best. Individuals who have delayed disclosure of childhood sexual abuse and delayed treatment intervention are less likely to make a full recovery. In the case of Mr. Smith, his symptoms have resulted in significant changes in his life trajectory, some of which are irreversible, and which in themselves have adversely affected his potential for future happiness. Examples include: (1) Mr. Smith’ failure to go to college; (2) Mr. Smith’ long estrangement from his parents whom he believed did not believe and were not willing to discuss his history of sexual abuse; (3) Mr. Smith’s loss of his career in the military, a job to which he was eminently suited based on his family’s connection to the military and his aptitude for foreign languages; (4) Mr. Smith’ inability to maintain his secure and well-paying job with the Sunnyvale Police Force; and (5) Mr. Smith’ troubled marital relationship which has been negatively affected by his sexual inhibitions.
On a more positive note, it is the case that Mr. Smith has shown a capacity to benefit from psychotherapy that is documented in his progress notes from the Sex Abuse Treatment Center. He is an intelligent and insightful man who recognizes his need for help and he has actively sought out treatment. However, Mr. Smith has multiple severe and disabling psychiatric symptoms including PTSD and chronic recurrent depression. Mr. Smith has a significant problem with drug and alcohol dependency which, like many individuals with PTSD, he uses to fend off and cover his anxiety and depression. Mr. Smith also suffers from a severe Binge-Eating Disorder and has chronic feelings of low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence that infiltrates almost every area of his life. Based on my assessment, it is unlikely that Mr. Smith will ever make a complete recovery and as a result of missed academic and professional opportunities, his overall trajectory has been set a lower grade than would have been the case absent his sexual abuse.
At his deposition, John explained how much Ballinger’s abuse had derailed his life:
12 I just want some help getting back on my feet, you
13 know. I was in Scouts a long time. I know the
14 oath and the motto, and I want the Scouts to live
15 up to their own oath, because on that oath is to
16 help other people at all times, to keep myself
17 physically strong — keep myself physically
18 strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
19 Well, that’s what I want to be. I just
20 want to be physically strong, mentally awake and
21 morally straight. I just I need a little help
22 getting there. And if this hadn’t happened to me
1 I think my life would be completely different now.
. . . .
10 And all these people had all these high
11 hopes for me and stuff and then my grades start
12 going down and I just kind of roller coaster. And
13 I just go through depression, and then I’m hanging
14 out with the other kids who have no friends, and
15 I’m picked on all the time. And my life is just
16 hell and then I — then I finally get to the point
17 I want to kill myself, and then I feel like I’m
18 punished for that.
. . . .
3 I’ve lost friends over it when I try to
4 talk to people about it they never look at me the
5 same way again. They think because this happened
6 to you maybe you’re gay, or they think this
7 happened to you and maybe you’re a pedophile now.
8 Or they think you’re weird or something and
9 then — or they make jokes. Nobody has anything
10 to say, nothing productive, nothing worthwhile;
11 it’s just they either have nothing to say or
12 something stupid to say.
13 And I don’t get to talk to anybody about
14 it. I can’t talk to my wife. I can’t talk to
15 anyone. I just have to suck it up and just keep
16 moving on and everyone just has this reaction like
17 it’s just not supposed to bother you that bad. It
18 was a long time ago. You know, for me, it doesn’t
19 feel like a long time ago. It’s really never
20 stopped. It’s never stopped. I’ve just been
21 reliving it over and over and over and over again.
John filed suit against the Boy Scouts because he said he “wanted this to stop happening to other kids . . . I feel like this is the only way [the Boy Scouts] will listen to me and I want justice. I got none. I feel like Ballinger – I got punished more than he did.”
Ballinger’s sexual abuse has damaged every aspect of John’s life.
It has affected his ability to work, his marriage, and his relationship with his children. It has altered his personality. It has led him down dark pathways of drug and alcohol abuse and consideration of ending his own life.
John has suffered permanent mental scars caused by the Boy Scouts in approving Ballinger as a supervising adult, refusing to enforce its own rules and failing to protect John from a predator.