In suing Boy Scouts, man who alleges sex abuse wants 'to clear my shame'
NORTH ADAMS — By age 11, Jim Peters had lost interest in becoming a Boy Scout.
Then, one day in 1976, at a friend's house in North Adams, an approximately 22-year-old scoutmaster took an interest in Peters.
Peters recalled the scoutmaster telling his friend, Bill, "You need to get your friend joined up."
"And I think Bill convinced me" to join, Peters said. "I really didn't care. I think I wanted to spend time with my friend, that's all."
Now, Peters, 56, is one of a growing number of men who are filing suit against the Boy Scouts of America amid allegations of sexual assault perpetrated against them.
He alleges that Scoutmaster Mark Bulshey molested him in 1976.
Peters said in an Eagle interview that by making his story public, he hopes "to have some sort of public vindication; to clear my shame I can't carry the shame any more and I think the public should know. ... If more people come forward, then all the better."
The incident was documented and substantiated by the Boy Scouts of America, which then dismissed Bulshey from the organization. In a statement to The Eagle, the Boy Scouts said it notified local police, but criminal charges never were filed.
Bulshey's name, address and other identifying information are logged in the Boy Scouts of America's confidential files. The documents dealing with Peters' case are part of about 1,250 such files on alleged cases of sex abuse within the Boy Scouts nationwide dating to the mid-1960s.
According to an April 2019 New York Times story, a review of those files showed 8,000 volunteers were excluded from the Boy Scouts because they had been accused of sexually abusing children.
Until the files were made public in a 2012 Oregon Supreme Court decision, the Boy Scouts of America used the documents internally to track ousted suspected sexual abusers and prevent them from joining troops elsewhere within the Boy Scouts.
"The BSA is outraged there have been times when Scouts were abused and we sincerely apologize to victims and their families," The Boy Scouts of America said in a statement to The Eagle. "Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members and we consider youth protection our top priority."
A man who returned a voicemail message from The Eagle and who identified himself as Mark Bulshey hung up on a reporter when told The Eagle wanted to ask questions regarding his time as a scoutmaster in 1976. Additional attempts to reach Bulshey for comment were unsuccessful.
"It was a one-time thing, but ever since that happened, I've carried shame," Peters said. "It's like a huge weight on me like it was my fault. I made a decision that I'm no longer going to carry this shame, and I don't care if I put my name in the newspaper ... because I was the victim."
According to the documents, Bulshey was a Boy Scout in North Adams from October 1965 until October 1972, when he became the assistant scoutmaster for Troop 34. Bulshey was Troop 108's assistant scoutmaster from December 1973 until February 1975, when he became Troop 125's scoutmaster. In June 1976, he was dismissed after the Boy Scouts of America investigated the allegations.
Peters grew up in North Adams, and he described himself as a shy, meek kid with little self-confidence. His parents were divorced.
"I had no guidance from my father, so I trusted this person as a role model," Peters said.
Peters said Bulshey took an immediate interest in him. Peters was promoted to senior patrol leader, despite being a regular scout with no special qualifications or merit badges. With that authority came the privilege of being able to sleep in the scoutmaster's pop-up camping trailer during camping trips, instead of in tents along with the rest of the Scouts.
"In hindsight, it's all very plain to see why he did that," Peters said. "That's when the incident happened."
The assault, according to Peters and the Boy Scouts' documents, occurred during a camping trip with Troop 125 on Memorial Day weekend in 1976. Peters' name and other identifying information have been redacted from the Boy Scouts documents, but Bulshey's was not. The documents summarize conversations with Bulshey as well as with Peters and his parents.
Peters said Bulshey wanted to give him a rubdown. Peters protested but eventually gave in, and Bulshey pulled down his underwear and masturbated him. Bulshey requested the same from Peters, but he refused.
About three months earlier, Peters' mother said, Bulshey had spoken with her about her son becoming the senior patrol leader. She said Bulshey then began calling the house frequently and "talked for long periods," which, she said, she found strange. Peters said Bulshey would speak with his mother on the phone and, on at least one occasion, came to the house and had a long talk with him and his mother about Peters' role in the troop.
According to the documents, around May the troop had changed its meeting place from the American Legion Post in North Adams to a barn on East Main Street Extension.
Peters corroborated that account.
"Somewhere along the line, had this idea to move the troop's headquarters out of the American Legion and into the basement of my friend's barn in North Adams," Peters said.
He said he didn't know what the rationale was at the time to justify moving the troop's headquarters from the Legion hall, which typically was a busy place with people always around, to the relatively secluded barn basement.
"In hindsight, I'm 100 percent sure that's probably why he wanted to have it there, so he could bring his victims there," Peters said.
Peters said he has been in contact with an alleged second victim, who didn't want their name disclosed.
Shortly after returning from the camping trip, Peters said, he blurted out to his mother about the assault. His parents contacted representatives from the Boy Scouts and the American Legion, which had sponsored the troop.
According to a letter included in the file, Boy Scouts of America District Executive David D. Pool interviewed Peters and his family June 8, 1976.
Peters described the interview as like a deposition.
According to Pool's July 1976 letter to Paul I. Ernst, the director of the BSA's registration and subscription service, Bulshey denied the allegations and acknowledged that there was some question as to which nights these incidents occurred and how often Peters slept in Bulshey's trailer.
"The stories by the two boys do collaborate (sic) somewhat, so I feel the placing of Mark's name in the confidential file is necessary," Pool wrote.
Peters didn't go to counseling — "Nobody did that back then" — so he internalized all of his emotions.
"So, I carried it," he said. "I don't know if I could describe it. It still has a detrimental effect on my life."
The trauma has affected his relationships with women, his father and his sons, according to Peters.
"It's not a one-victim crime when it happens like that," Peters said.
Attorney Peter Janci, of the Oregon-based law firm Crew Janci LLP, which specializes in sexual abuse cases and was part of the legal team that won the first major release of the Boy Scouts of America's confidential files, said the organization typically didn't report accusations to police.
Instead, Janci said, the files were kept in the Boy Scouts' national office under lock and key, and were ostensibly used as a reference tool to keep people removed from scouting from joining other troops. Individuals could have circumvented the system by changing their name or using a different name when applying to a new troop.
Some adults were successful in their probation, meaning they avoided further reporting and accusations for a year or two. After that, their previous file would be destroyed and they would be allowed to return to scouting.
It appears that Bulshey never was reinstated.
"One of the things about scouting that's unlike the Catholic Church ... is at that time, scouting allowed a single individual man to take up to 12 boys into the woods for three days, or a week or sometimes longer and have completely unfettered around-the-clock access," Janci said. "This was as good as it gets if you're a pedophile looking for opportunity."
Janci said the Boy Scouts didn't make efforts to reach out to other boys in troops where abuse allegations were made to see if they also were affected.
"This is a systemic problem," he said. "We should be past the point where anyone believes it's acceptable to withhold information about allegations of child sexual abuse."
Since the Boy Scouts' confidential files were made public in 2012, the organization has put into place policies and procedures to serve as "barriers to abuse," including a screening process, criminal background checks, a policy requiring that two or more adults be present during scouting activities and mandatory reporting of allegations or suspicion of abuse.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-441-3415.
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