An in-depth investigation into sexual abuse allegations at the Boys & Girls Club of America identified more than 250 victims "who say they were sexually abused as children at the hands of employees, volunteers and other members," according to a report at Greenwich Time conducted by Hearst Connecticut Media.
The report indicates that some children were molested repeatedly, and others were molested "while isolated in situations like sleepovers or club trips."
"Civil lawsuits dating back to the 1970s claim that in some instances, leadership at the clubs knew about the abuse and did not report it to law enforcement," reports the news agency. "[S]ome clubs did not adhere to Boys & Girls Clubs of America safety guidelines or failed to conduct sufficient background checks."
Founded in 1860 to create a "positive alternative" for "boys who roamed the streets," the Boys & Girls Club has long been known as a difference-maker in low-income communities. In a 1991 New York Times letter to the editor, National Director Thomas G. Garth lauded the club for reducing "drug use, vandalism and other criminal activity" in areas "in or near public housing across the country."
"Boys & Girls Clubs, as well as other youth organizations, make a difference in the lives of young people," the letter continues.
But in some instances, the strong presence of the club as a community institution appears to have made it more difficult for justice to be served.
Jason Amala, an attorney representing some of the victims, says "youth organizations fill a void in a kid's life, especially if that child comes from a broken home," reports Greenwich Time. "There were very fond memories for a lot of people there. But the flip side is they find out later the organization didn't protect them."
When Joey Piscitelli was in high school, he told his therapist about the abuse he endured as a child at the local Boys & Girls Club. The therapist then contacted a school administrator who proceeded to warn Piscitelli against talking about it, according to Greenwich Time. "Piscitelli said he didn't talk about the abuse again for 25 years," the report underscores.
After Paul Collins, an aquatics director at a club in Massachusetts, was caught molesting a child at the victim's home, the child's family called the local Boys & Girls Club and Collins was fired on the spot, the Connecticut Post reports. However, the news agency also notes that the "director and parents jointly agreed at the time they did not want to risk negative publicity for the club."
Police only learned about the abuse in 2013 as they were investigating an unrelated allegation.