Scout leader accused of sexual abuse at Boy Scout camp

Updated: Sep. 6, 2019 at 5:38 PM EDT
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PIERCEFIELD, N.Y. (WWNY) - A western New York Boy Scout leader is accused of sexually abusing several youths at a St. Lawrence County Boy Scout camp three summers in a row.

State police say 55 year old Ronald Rowcliffe of Elba in Genesee County had inappropriate sexual contact with victims from 12 to 14 years old while they were attending the Massawepie Boy Scout Camp in the town of Piercefield in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

He was charged with two counts of first-degree sexual abuse and one count each of forcible touching and endangering the welfare of a child.

“We were approached by campers regarding Mr. Rowcliffe’s conduct toward them while they were attending the Boy Scout camp,” said Trooper Jennifer Fleishman.

According to court documents (seen at the bottom of the article), Rowcliffe instructed scouts during a shotgun course. Papers said, “Under the pretext of adjusting the shooter’s stance, Rowcliffe did place one hand with an open palm over the victim’s clothed genitals, cradling the penis, and push the victim’s hips backward.”

One boy told police, “He made me feel extremely uncomfortable. He made me very angry. I was afraid to stand up to Ronald for what he did to me.”

Rowcliffe was arraigned in Piercefield town court and sent to St. Lawrence County jail on $10,000 bail or $20,000 bond.

State police say more charges are pending as they continue to investigate.

“We want to hear from the other victims if there are any to insure that justice is served," said Fleishman.

But how might a parent know if their child is a victim of sexual abuse? Erin Kiechle, executive director of Family Counseling Services of Northern New York, says sometimes there is a change in behavior..

“You know if they are a normal happy kid usually and you’re seeing something completely different. It’s something to be conscious of,” she said.

Kiechle says other signs of sexual abuse include trauma to the genital area, bed wetting, nightmares, inappropriate sexual behavior and not wanting to change in front of others.

“If your child came to you and disclosed to you that they have been sexually abused, to stay calm, to listen to them, most importantly is to believe them that something has happened. And proceed with that in mind like this happened, this is true because they need that support, the children need support in that time and not believing them would be even more detrimental,” she said.

Anyone who has information or believes they may have been a victim can contact state police at 518-873-2750.

We reached out to Rowcliffe, who is still in the St. Lawrence County Jail. He declined to comment.

Seneca Waterways Council Scout Executive and CEO Stephen Hoitt issued the following statement:

"First and foremost, we put the safety and well-being of our Scouts, and all youth, as our top priority.

Early in our summer camp season Scouts reported allegations of inappropriate actions by one of our staff members. We immediately terminated the camp staff employee in question, turned the issue over to investigators who we are fully cooperating with, and took immediate action to prohibit the accused individual from any further participation in the Scouting program.

Summer camp staff must complete youth protection training and go through criminal background checks annually.

As part of the Boy Scouts off America’s Youth Protection Training, adults may not be one on one with any youth at any time, and Scouts learn that if something makes them feel uncomfortable they should come forward. Specifically in this case it is thanks to Scouts who came forward that the issue could be dealt with immediately.

These allegations remind us how important it is to be always vigilant when it comes to the safety of our youth and the importance of talking with our children about the subject of youth protection. Keeping an open dialogue with our children—no matter what their age—is a vital part of keeping them safe.

During the course of the current Rowcliffe investigation it was determined that more severe accusations were made against Mr. Rowcliffe, in 2001, while he was an employee of the Holley Police Department, however, none of those issues appeared in any criminal background checks performed by the Boy Scouts on Mr. Rowcliffe.

We have independently verified with State Police that for unknown reasons no criminal charges were ever filed and there would have been no way for any youth agency to be aware of sexual abuse complaints against Mr. Rowcliffe while he was a member of the Holley Police Department. Sadly, had a different action been taken in 2001 this issue would have been completely avoidable."

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