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Decades after sexual abuse, former Boy Scout confronts his attacker with a pointed message

Tom Stewart says through God's help, he is able to forgive his former Boy Scout leader who sexually abused him starting when Stewart was 8-years-old. In a new memoir, Stewart details the abuse, his lawsuit against the Boy Scouts and how he's come to forgive. (Image provided to TheBlaze)

It took the suffering of two brothers from Washington state to garner the courage to take on the Boy Scouts of America in a landmark case exposing sexual abuse within the organization.

But more than that, it took God's grace to move past that suffering and embrace forgiveness, Tom Stewart, a former Boy Scout who was sexually abused by his Scout leader for a decade, details in a new memoir.

Stewart, along with his brother Matt, sued the Boy Scouts and their former Scoutmaster in 2003, winning an out-of-court settlement without a gag order. The case also required the Boy Scouts to release to the Stewarts' attorney its archive on sexually abusive leaders within the organization, the Seattle Times reported in 2007.

Those records relayed that the Boy Scouts released at least 5,100 adults nationwide because of sexual abuse allegations since 1946. And for 15 years, leaders were kicked out at a rate of one every other day for sexual abuse allegations, the records showed.

For Tom Stewart, the lawsuit was not an opportunity to make money from the Boy Scouts. Instead, he said the lawsuit was able to be a catalyst for him to publicly tell his own story in order to help other victims of sexual abuse, Stewart told TheBlaze in a wide-ranging interview.

The Abuse

Tom Stewart's memoir, "The Broken Scout," is an honest, raw depiction of his upbringing and challenges he's faced in his life — including two divorces, cancer and the death of his son due to a drug overdose. But throughout the book, Stewart reminds his readers of his reliance on his faith and church in order to overcome each trial, including that of the sexual abuse by his Scoutmaster and neighbor, Bruce Phelps.

In innocent and graphic details, Stewart details the beginning of the abuse as his Scout leader offered to drive him to his first meeting — which also happened to be Stewart's 8th birthday.

Stewart describes how elated he was to be seen by his fellow scouts getting into Phelps’ car — but instead of going straight home, Stewart describes the harsh back roads Phelps traversed before eventually stopping his truck to give Stewart a “massage,” a “routine for a Scout leader to do this to a Scout,” Stewart said Phelps told him.

Stewart, now 54, wrote:

This continued at least once a week for the next 520 weeks. He spent two years grooming me — then spent the next ten years manipulating me, and sexually abusing me. My life all seems like a hazy blur — except for what he did to me. I have all the proof that I participated in Scouts — stashed away behind my closet door. All the proof I went through the ranks, but have little memory of it. The pictures of what I have in my mind reveal the expensive price I paid for entering all those skill awards and merit badges, but I am the only one who can see what I see. The abuse surfaces in many ways. They catch me off guard, over and over again — visions, nightmares, and flashbacks. It’s as if the devil was constantly hovering, waiting to dive in and devour; using Bruce as his demon pawn to have his way. This is my constant reality.

Stewart said he still, to this day, has nightmares of the abuse he suffered, including his Scoutmaster's use of a firearm to force Stewart into submission as he became older and more wary of what was happening.

In his raw memoir, Tom Stewart details the sexual abuse he endured at the hands of his Boy Scout leader — and how that abuse shaped the rest of his life. (Image provided to TheBlaze)

But despite that, Stewart said he feels as though it's his "calling" to help other victims of sexual abuse by telling his own story.

"I still have nightmares to this day, which is probably common with extreme PTSD with a decade of sexual abuse," Stewart told TheBlaze. "I guess I’m the type that this is my calling on this earth, and if I can help other people because of what I went through and if I could show them how God brought me through it."

Stewart said he views it as a "cycle"

"We go through trials for a reason," he said, "and there's a purpose for our pain, and it's to help someone else get through a similar circumstance so they can heal, and they can help someone else, and it just continues on.

"Hopefully there are a lot of people who are set free," Stewart said.

And for Stewart, freedom comes through forgiveness.

Process of Forgiveness

"I think forgiveness is absolutely mandatory for me. I had to get to the point where I could forgive my scout leader, and I did by God’s grace alone," Stewart told TheBlaze. 

Stewart wrote in his book that Phelps did admit to his relations with the Stewart brothers — both in a court deposition and to Matt — but would often place the blame on the brothers as well as a "demon" he said lived inside of him at the time before became a Christian, Stewart wrote.

But even with admittance, Phelps was immune from prosecution thanks to a short statute of limitations in Washington:

By the time finally went to the police to file the report, the three-year statute of limitations had lapsed, resulting in no arrest. There were no charges. No prosecution. No jail time. No consequences. No nothing for what Bruce did! A measley three-year deadline had shut the case down. It no longer had any legal significance, and was concluded with a status of ‘Cleared Exceptional.’ The only thing the police could do was retain the information.

Like that was supposed to make us feel better.

And that is exactly why some don’t come forward to report sexual abuse. When a victim bares all, just to be turned away because of some stupid time restraints, it leaves them feeling like they are treading on a tidal wave. I believe when a victim is stuck serving a life sentence of pain, why shouldn’t the perpetrator?

A police report, obtained by the Seattle Times, corroborates Stewart's recount of his brother's meeting that elicited  a confession from Phelps.

But on Dec. 31, 2015 — years after the lawsuit was finished — Stewart said he knew what he was supposed to do with his day. He got in his car and traveled the 50 minutes to stand in front of Phelps face-to-face and say the words he needed to hear maybe more than Phelps did: "I forgive you for what happened."

Phelps didn't particularly give Stewart a warm welcome, Stewart wrote. In fact, Phelps wore a "hostile look on his face," Stewart said.

Even still, Stewart said he felt "calmer" as he drove away from Phelps' house.

"It was necessary to be completely released from all the bitterness and anger," Stewart said. "Otherwise, that would kill me emotionally. For me, to be released from that for the most part would help me be able to reach out and help others."

Changes

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the U.S., estimates that one in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault by adult perpetrators. It also estimates that people between the ages of 12 and 34 are at the highest risk for rape and sexual assault.

Stewart told TheBlaze that young boys aren't always believed when they come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct — especially if they are reporting on an authority figure. There is also the stigma that male sexual assault victims are gay, he said.

RAINN estimates that about 3 percent of American males have experienced an attempted or completed rape.

Tom Stewart (left) said his mother didn't support or believe him when he finally told her of the sexual abuse he endured. His brother, Matt, was also sexually abused by the same Scout leader. (Image provided to TheBlaze)

Since Stewart's lawsuit, the Boy Scouts of America began conducting background checks on potential Scout leaders, only checking new volunteers, according to the Seattle Times. The organization also initiated a "two-deep" rule in an attempt to bar adult leaders from interacting alone with youths.

Still, Stewart remained cautious when asked if he would view the organization safe for young boys today as opposed to his time as a Boy Scout.

"That’s a complicated question. I do believe they have improved, but I don’t think they’ve improved to where they need to be. My recommendation would be for, in this case, a dad or male role model to go on every camp out with his son that way they’d ensure his son’s safety," Stewart said, adding that he understood how unrealistic his recommendation could be to some families, including single mothers.

"The parents really need to know the leaders extremely well. But the safest thing would be to go on the outings with the boys," Stewart said. "Other than that, the potential is very real for the boys to be abused."

Stewart himself remained a Scout leader until 2003 — the time of the lawsuit — which he said was slightly traumatizing for him given his past.

"I think that’s the irony. I believe in the Boy Scout program wholeheartedly except that they’re not protecting the boys. So I realized if I was the leader, my boys would be safe," Stewart said. "That was the most important thing for me to be able to do."

But in 2003, Stewart said he could no longer be a part of the organization as he felt "it was highly doubtful the Boy Scouts of America would appreciate [he] continuing as Scoutmaster if [he] was taking them to court."

So Stewart told his story to the troop.

"I cannot be a leader in an organization that does not protect boys," Stewart said as he quit in front of his Scouts.

Stewart's book, "The Broken Scout," is available through Redemption Press, an independent Christian publishing company based in Washington. It sells for $16.99 on Redemption Press' website.

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