Former Oxnard man alleges sex abuse, sues Boy Scouts, Mormon church

Ventura County Star/April 14, 2011

A former Oxnard man has filed a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, alleging he was sexually abused more than two decades ago by a Scout leader who was active in the church.

Filed in Ventura County Superior Court, the suit alleges the organizations knew or should have known the alleged abuser posed a risk. It also claims they failed to prevent abuse.

Building largely on a Portland, Ore., sexual abuse case in which the Boy Scouts of America was found negligent last year, the suit says the Oxnard troop was predominantly Mormon and the alleged abuser got involved in the Boy Scouts as a direct result of his church involvement.

Tim Thomton, Scout executive for the Ventura County Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said he could not comment on specific ongoing litigation.

"We are saddened by any incident of abuse and we extend sympathy to all such victims," Thomton said in general. "Youth protection has always been of paramount importance to the Boy Scouts of America and we have continued to enhance our youth protection programs to make sure Scouting is safe for all its members."

A lawyer representing the Mormon church did not return repeated calls seeking comment this week.

The former Scout leader, Mark Gum, was named in the suit as the alleged abuser but not as a defendant. To name a defendant in a childhood sexual abuse civil case, plaintiffs older than 26 must go through a time-consuming process of submitting corroborating facts to the court, said Tim Hale, the lawyer for the plaintiff, Tayln Lang, now 37. The suit was filed in October and amended in March with the names of the defendants — the Scouts and the church.

While he told his story to another former Boy Scout in the years following the alleged abuse, Lang didn't file a report with Oxnard police until this month, Hale said. The statute of limitations, however, appeared to preclude any criminal case, police said, and Gum has not been arrested or charged with any crime.

Even without a formal report, Hale said, Scout and church officials still should have noticed red flags of potential abuse and taken action.

The suit alleges Gum sexually abused the plaintiff regularly from the time Lang was about 13, in about 1986, until he was 16.

Gum, then a leader in the local Mormon church, also took a leadership role in Lang's Oxnard Scout troop, although he did not have any children of his own involved in it, the suit alleges. Gum had Lang spend nights at his home even though he had no children the boy's age, and showered naked with some boys at a Scout camp, something no other adults did, the lawsuit alleges. At least one former Scout recalled the shower activity as inappropriate, according to the suit.

"If a Scout is able to recognize the impropriety of this kind of conduct, certainly adults in the organization ... should have taken action on it," Hale said. "If they had, it would have stopped the abuse of our client from taking place."

The suit claims the first sexual assault occurred at Gum's former home in Oxnard. Gum later convinced Lang to move with him to Butte County in Northern California by "exploiting the emotional dependency he had created ... as well as the plaintiff's unhappy home life," according to the suit. The boy lived with Gum with the consent of his parents, whose trust Gum had gained, Hale said.

While the boy was living with Gum, members of the Mormon church visited and accepted the "bizarre living arrangement" without taking any action, the suit claims.

The plaintiff ran away from Gum's home when he was 16 after Gum allegedly pinned him to the ground and pointed a gun at him, the suit claims.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from the Boy Scouts of America and its Ventura County Council, and the Mormon church for negligence and infliction of emotional distress.

Hale said Lang did not report the abuse until recently partly because "he still lives in fear" of the alleged abuser. He added it's unclear where Gum lives now. Lang, who lives out of state, decided to come forward as he examined the impact of the abuse on his life in the wake of a job loss, the lawyer said.

In the Portland case, in which Hale was not involved, lawyers for theplaintiff argued the Boy Scouts of America was negligent because it allowed a former Scout leader to continue associating with the plaintiff's troop after he confessed to a Mormon bishop that he had molested Scouts, according to media reports.

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