According to a report by Lee Morrison of the New Philadelphia (Ohio) Times-Reporter, a former Boy Scout leader under investigation for sexual abuse committed against a Boy Scout in the 1990s has died in an apparent suicide.
Scott Rickenbrode was found by hikers last Tuesday with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The related law enforcement investigation and coroner’s report are pending.
In March of this year, a man who was a former Boy Scout in Stark County Troop 914 reported his sexual abuse at the hands of Rickenbrode to law enforcement. The abuse occurred on Scout outings and other locations during 1995-1997 and included Rickenbrode taking nude photos of the boy. The former Boy Scout’s report resulted in law enforcement executing a search warrant on Rickenbrode’s home to search for child pornography. The investigation is ongoing.
The issue raised in this story is an important one: should survivors of child sexual abuse report to law enforcement, even if many years or decades have passed? Most professionals working with adult child sexual abuse survivors will emphasize that the choice to report to law enforcement years after the abuse is a decision best left to the individual. However, there are several reasons why abuse survivors should consider making a report.
First, there is the possibility that the perpetrator is still harming children. Law enforcement across the country is becoming more sensitive and aware of the value of reports of historical sexual abuse. This was certainly true with the Rickenbrode report, as one of the investigating detectives, Cathy Bickford, stated: “If there are any other victims, they can report it to law enforcement in their jurisdiction, or they can call me.” A report about abuse that happened ten, twenty, or thirty years ago could spare a child’s suffering today.
Second, criminal statutes of limitation vary greatly from state to state. A report of abuse from years past may not be futile in terms of accountability for the perpetrator. There are several resources that have collected the criminal statute of limitations information for the fifty states. Here is one resource from the abuse survivors advocacy group RAINN: https://apps.rainn.org/policy-app/index2.cfm.
Finally, if a sexual abuse survivor has begun to address their abuse history and the impact it has had on their life, a report to law enforcement may provide catharsis and healing. While this is not true in every case, we have seen how reporting to law enforcement can empower an adult survivor whose lifetime relationship with their abuse history has been fraught with feelings of helplessness and pain.