© 2024 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Iowa lawmakers face a deadline to help Boy Scouts abuse survivors get money they're owed

Iowa capitol building
Grant Gerlock
Iowa lawmakers have until April 19 to pass a law to help Boy Scouts abuse survivors.

Some Iowa lawmakers are making a last-minute effort to ensure Iowans who were sexually abused by Boy Scouts leaders decades ago can get paid as much as victims in other states as part of a national settlement.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) created a $2.4 billion fund to pay about 82,500 victims across the country. Iowa’s strict time limit on suing perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse means Iowa victims could see their financial compensation from the BSA reduced by 55 to 70% compared to victims in other states.

Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, filed a bill Monday to prevent that from happening. But it must become law by April 19, according to a lawyer involved in the matter, for it to help Iowans who have claims in the Boy Scouts bankruptcy settlement.

“So it’s something that we have to push pretty hard to get it done here before the end of session, and that also meets the requirements as far as the lookback period on their end of it, the Boy Scouts of America’s end of it as well,” Kraayenbrink said. “We’re going to see if we can get it through, and with the governor’s approval, hopefully we can get that done.”

Survivors of abuse in Boy Scouts have pushed Iowa lawmakers throughout this legislative session to change the law ahead of this impending deadline.

Joe Gargano of Fort Dodge said he was sexually abused when he was a Boy Scout around the age of 10.

“It just pretty much obliterated my life with substance abuse and everything else—self-medication, you know,” he said.

Now 67 years old and sober for two decades, Gargano said he didn’t really want to get involved in the Boy Scouts settlement when that became an option in 2020. But then he did, and Gargano said when he got information in the mail, he noticed Iowa victims could be eligible for less money. He said he was “pissed.”

“I’m not just going to settle after all this time,” Gargano said. “And especially after these last three years, I’m not going to just take whatever they throw out.”

He said his lawyer told him about the Iowa law that could stand in the way of his full payout.

“And I said, well how about a person changes that statute?” Gargano said.

So he started making calls and got in touch with state lawmakers.

Gargano said being abused as a kid left derailed his childhood career goals, left him with trauma and its physical and mental symptoms. He said he wouldn’t know what to say to lawmakers who might oppose the bill he has advocated for.

“I’d want to sit across from them and look them right in the eyes, and I’d just say, ‘Why not?’” he said. “Is there a good answer?”

Why are Iowa victims at a disadvantage compared to those in other states?

According to Gilion Dumas, an attorney in Oregon who has represented victims of abuse in Boy Scouts across the country, there is a “matrix” for determining the monetary value of each victim’s claim in the BSA bankruptcy settlement.

She said because of Iowa’s time limit on child sexual abuse lawsuits, which is one of the strictest time limits in the country, the matrix reduces the value of Iowa claims by 55 to 70%.

Dumas said there isn’t enough money in the settlement trust to even pay the full value to all victims, so Iowa survivors could end up getting paid a very small percentage of their reduced value. A survivor who could claim the highest value of $2.7 million could be eligible for $810,000 in Iowa, but get paid as little as $40,000. She said a victim on the low end of the matrix in Iowa could get paid just $900.

Kraayenbrink said his bill to address the devaluation of Iowa claims is modeled after a bill that recently passed in the Alabama Legislature. IPR asked him why his bill would not go beyond helping the former Boy Scouts.

“I think that’s the most important part for us right now,” Kraayenbrink said. “That’s what was brought to us, and I think we’re all agreeing, hopefully, that we can get this done, and it doesn’t get any broader than that right now.”

Bills to get rid of Iowa’s civil statute of limitations have failed to pass

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse have been trying for years to get the time limit on these lawsuits removed.

If an Iowan who is sexually abused as a child wants to file a lawsuit over their abuse, Iowa law requires them to do so by the time they turn 19 years old in many cases. But studies suggest most survivors don’t tell anyone about their abuse until they are well into adulthood.

The Iowa Legislature removed the time limit on bringing criminal charges in 2021, but has repeatedly declined to remove the limit on lawsuits.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, has filed many bills to eliminate the civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse lawsuits. This session, her bill was co-sponsored by the 15 other Democrats in the Senate.

“The adult survivors of Boy Scout abuse are being re-victimized by a chart that basically says, until your state changes that civil statute of limitations law, you’re going to get pennies on the dollar because your abuse occurred within the state lines of Iowa,” Petersen said.

But Petersen’s bill did not receive an initial hearing. 

Republican Sen. Brad Zaun of Urbandale, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said last month that was because there was not enough support among Republican lawmakers to advance the bill.

Petersen said when survivors aren’t able to come forward with their allegations through lawsuits, perpetrators are able to keep victimizing kids.

She pointed to the case of former Iowa teacher Justin Query, who allegedly groomed and sexually assaulted a student about two decades ago, and then moved to Illinois and allegedly repeated those actions with another student.

State law bars the Iowa survivor from pursuing a lawsuit or criminal charges, but the Illinois survivor was able to file a lawsuit in that state.

“Until Iowa changes our civil statute of limitations laws, our children are at risk, [and] our communities are at risk,” Petersen said.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter