Despite being fought by the Boy Scouts of America, some 1,200 files chronicling sex abuse by BSA leaders were released last month, revealing the details and the names of the now-men who were abused between 1960 and 1985.
In this exclusive interview, host Jamila Bey spoke with John Buckland, whose case was contained within those files, to learn his story.
My full name is John Mark Bucklin. When all this happened back in 80s, I actually went by Mark Bucklin, I went by my middle name. My father worked in air force for 26 years, so I’ve travelled all over the world. I was born in Madrid, Spain, and we lived in Iceland, in all of the U.S., so it’s been a very colorful way of life for me. I out here in West Virginia and have organization called Heroes for Hire. We do appearances for events for children, whether it’s a birthday party, whether it’s a school anti-bullying campaign or anti-drug campaign. We pay visits with a purpose and a mission. I talk to the kids about being heroes.
I wonder if you do this work because of your own background and what was taking when you were a child.
Yeah, absolutely. What happened when an abuse-event or something traumatic happens to you, you lose a large piece of yourself. And the best way I can describe what working with kids does for me now – it is every time I reach another child and I hear report of how it helped them or how they became different or how it made their day, when I visit a child in the cancer ward at the pediatric hospital, whatever, – you get a piece of that child that you lost in yourself back.
Talk about your experience when you were 14.
I was a boy scout on our Travis Air Force Base, California. I was often on assignments. Unfortunately, what I think pre-conditioned me to be really susceptible to the need for another role model in my life is that there was a large group of us who actually involved in the scouting arena on the base and we were basically befriended by Curtis who was the assistant scoutmaster at the time and he was a sergeant at the time on the base. He was someone whom all of us trusted. Over a period of time, he developed a relationship with us. And the trust was broken after experience of being molested on several occasions either by himself or with other kids as well. So it ran the whole gang and did everything you could horrifically imagine that can be done with a child at that time. So it was a traumatic experience.
Why didn’t you tell somebody?
In many cases, the abuse just doesn’t take place over night, especially when a trusted relationship is established. Over that period of time, you begin to trust that person and, as a kid, – I know it sounds pretty crazy, – but you don’t fully understand that what is happening at the time is wrong. If you don’t have parents who sat down and talked to you about sex, about those kind of things, then you really don’t know. At least that was my case. I have learned to trust him. And, as a result, I didn’t know that there was anything wrong. It wasn’t the kind of situation where we were beaten, it was more of a betrayal of an extreme trust and until years later now understanding the full impact.
When did you parents find out that you’re being abused?
It was in 84. We got a knock on the door from the military police. It was about dinner time. My dad opened, they called for mom and they went to military police department, I guess. And it turned out he had the entire portfolio of children’s pictures and that’s how they discovered that I was one of the victims out of 13 others. From what I understand, he was arrested immediately, he was court martialed and then also sentenced to hard labor at military prison where he did 12 years. The crazy thing is that it went out just as quick as it came! Looking back, it’s rather incredible that it was me going down to identify myself, as well as some other people who were involved. And then it disappeared. The military never contacted my family or myself. The boy scouts didn’t contact or help or guide. We did the best we could. It didn’t go away, but it was covered as fast as it came out. The boy scouts and the military had all information on us, they knew everything they needed to know as of victims, but still chose not to contact us. It wasn’t until I went on Anderson Cooper, that I received and impersonal reply through the producer of the show of the boy scouts. It was the first time in 30 years I received anything from them! It said that they were sorry for what had happened and that they supported me! I mean, 30 years later! And they knew my name on my case in my file covered with dust for decades and now, because of the pressure of the TV interview, you’re going to act like you care!
You talk about your own struggles after being abused – suicide attempts, criminal behavior. Can you tell us what exactly happened inside of you that led you to such a path?
What happens – there’s a whole lot of shame that goes on, the whole lot of self-guilt, identity issues. I struggled through my life not feeling comfortable with myself, not feeling I could fit in anywhere. I’m not the kind of person who makes excuses for bad choices and criminal behavior once you’re an adult. Once you’re an adult, you have to take accountability for your decisions and mistakes that you make. But there’re things which happened in your past that can pull you in the direction of this bad decision-making process. For me it was all the guilt that pushed me to drugs, monetary issues – being irresponsible with money, problems in relationships. These all things caused a storm which helped to set me up for the decisions to engage in criminal acts of robbing back in 1991, as the result of financial place that I put myself in through bad decision making. Like I said, I don’t in excuses for bad decisions that we make. However, growing up with this kind of crisis really sets you up for making them.
Do you think that counseling or therapy to help you closer to the time that the abuse took place may have helped you to not go through all that?
Absolutely! And that’s the most devastating thing! It would have enabled me to put pieces of myself together, it would have helped me to process what happened in a way to where I wouldn’t go down the road of blaming myself. But I believe that God allowed me to go through that. And the worst experiences are the best, because they’ve shaped me to be what I am today – helping other people. That’s the travesty of a person, a family or an organization trying to cover something like this up and not dealing with it immediately – you’re setting the child or the victim up to the life that’s completely off track. It’s not that God can’t put it back on track. He can! But I don’t believe it would ever be the same destination it could have been, had we cared enough to intervene in the beginning.
Where did your help come from?
My help came from a number of sources. In 1991 I fully turned to Christ. I had nothing else to look for. I made a decision that if God was as big as he said he was, I want to trust him to show me that. And he did! I didn’t fully recover until probably 2009. That’s when I read an article of somebody who had gone through the similar thing. From that point my therapy healing took place.
Talk about what you want parents to know!
First and foremost, be involved in every aspect of your child’s life. Know who they’re going with and where they’re going. In my honest opinion, no adult in the right mind from any organization should be unsupervised with any child! Don’t trust everybody! That sounds awful to say, but don’t! They oftentimes prove to be the worst ones for our kids. That’s just the unfortunate truth. What happens to a child is a form of emotional murder. What measures would you go to to prevent your child from spending time in the hands of a murderer? Even if it’s emotional murder? Once it happens to your children, it changes them. Don’t be afraid to talk about it! You have to get it out in order for the healing to begin. The biggest demon is the demon of secrecy! Don’t think that it’s going to go away, because it’s not! You have to be brave enough to talk about it! Because to not talk about it is to lose your dignity, your self-respect, everything about you as a successful and productive person.