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Op-ed: 30 Years Later, Fighting Your Molester

Op-ed: 30 Years Later, Fighting Your Molester


I first met Bill Fox in 1978 when I joined the Boy Scouts. Several months later, I found myself in his bedroom. He convinced my parents that I had to meet with him privately in order to advance rank from scout to tenderfoot. It was on that day he showed me pornography while he described masturbation. I still recall the wood paneling on the walls, the iconic Farrah Fawcett poster above his bed, and the gun on his desk. His attention was unlike any other I had experienced. His voice was tender, the gun was frightening, Farrah Fawcett's smile seemed to mock me. I was 11 years old.

Bill is now a retired police officer, and he pleaded no contest to nine charges, including child sexual abuse, in August. The three victims were all his adopted sons -- who maybe could have been spared, had it all stopped with me.

Unlike rape, which is a violent act, child molestation is insidious in nature in that it creates a desire in the child to please his or her victimizer. After school, Bill picked me up and took me on errands. When I complied with his sexual advances, I was rewarded with ice cream and given the honor of sitting in the front seat of his truck. When I disobeyed, I was verbally ridiculed in front of the other boys at scout meetings. Often Bill ordered the older scouts to bully me so that I fell in line. He called us his "army of boys."

After two years of sexual and mental abuse, I told my parents. They reported Bill to the assistant scoutmasters, but they convinced my parents not to press charges. Being devoted Italian Catholics, they obeyed the higher members of an organization sanctioned by our church.

Bill ultimately stepped down as scoutmaster. He was gone, and my life went on as though nothing had happened. I retreated into a world of isolation and depression, convinced that Bill's departure was my fault.

Throughout adulthood I struggled with depression and promiscuity. Complicating matters further was that I was also gay. It took a long time to understand that I wasn't gay because I was molested. I do believe Bill Fox knew I was gay, and perhaps that made me easy prey. Growing up in a strict Italian Catholic family, gay Italian-American men suffer from social stigma, marginalization, and disconnection from their families, especially their fathers. This disconnection is related to strict religious idealism and an underlying sense of misogyny. As a child I felt detached from my father and other boys my age. When I finally "came out" at the age of 28, I felt as though I had not only gone against my parents' wishes, I had also turned my back on God.

In 2008, I met old friends from Staten Island. We reminisced about being altar boys and members of Troop 85. That night I dreamed of Bill. For so many years I tried to bury my memories of him, but like most unresolved secrets, they had a way of uncovering themselves. All it took was that one nudge, and the memories came back all at once.

Up until that day, 2008 was shaping up to be an important year for me: I had just turned 40, I had broken up with yet another boyfriend, and I had just become a published author, of The Advocate Guide to Gay Men's Health and Wellness. Suddenly, I felt this incredible urge to face the demons of my childhood, not as a little boy but as an adult.

The next day I searched for him online and discovered that in 1981 he talked a suicidal teenager off a ledge and adopted him. In 1983 he wrote a memoir titled The Cop and the Kid, recounting the events that led to the adoption. I read his book during a flight to San Francisco. I became physically ill. Bill portrayed himself as a man who had a higher calling. He wanted to be a priest. As he described the adoption process, he told the boy he would protect him from queers who were also trying to adopt him. I grew angry, realizing that Bill had rewritten his history. Now he was dutiful cop and father instead of sadistic child molester. Through his book I tracked down his sister. I had to get in touch with Bill. I had to know if he was still involved in Boy Scouts, and I wanted to see if he remembered me.

Within a day, Bill returned my phone call. It was a casual conversation. We talked about Boy Scouts. He couldn't remember who I was. I asked him about the boy he adopted. He said he moved out a year after the adoption. Bill went on to tell me he had adopted 15 boys over the past 30 years.

After the conversation, I contacted the police. Knowing he still had boys in his care, I was convinced Bill was molesting them. That began a two-year investigation. Ultimately he was arrested after three of his adopted sons came forward with similar accusations of molestation.

In 1980 the adults involved when I came forward were ill equipped to deal with such an unconscionable crime. It was easier for them to believe Bill stopped molesting boys once he stepped down as scoutmaster. The truth is that he never stopped, because child molestation is a disease like drug addiction or alcohol dependence. To him we were just another drink. That's why he didn't remember who I was. I was just another glass of pinot noir.

Bill Fox now faces up to 69 years in prison. Regardless of the sentence, the reality is that he could live the remainder of his life in jail. Yet there is no justice for the countless boys he molested during the past 40 years. Many confided in me that humiliation prevented them from coming forward.

I can't help but feel remorse for all the boys who were victimized after me because the adults involved didn't notify the authorities. One in six boys is molested by the age of 16. More than 90% of molestation occurs by someone the family or the child knows. Often the cases go unreported. The Boy Scout manual states that 500,000 children are sexually molested each year. I no longer blame my family for the way they responded after I told them about Bill. Instead I blame a culture that refuses to acknowledge this affliction and the emotional wounds that persist into adulthood.

If anything, I feel comforted by the fact the authorities took me seriously when I called to tell them about an abuse that occurred to a little boy nearly 30 years ago. Had they not intervened, there is no doubt in my mind that Bill Fox would still be adopting boys and molesting them to this day.

Frank Spinelli, MD, is the former clinical director of HIV services at New York City's Cabrini Medical Center and is the author of The Advocate Guide to Gay Men's Health and Wellness. He is currently completing work on a book based on his experience.

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