‘The anger turned into power’: After years of abuse, former Boys and Girls Club member sues organization

Teegan Paul sits on a bench at White Park on Thursday. Paul is suing the Boys and Girls Club in Concord and Executive Director Chris Emond, accusing the organization of failing to enforce its own policies and reporting sexual abuse.

Teegan Paul sits on a bench at White Park on Thursday. Paul is suing the Boys and Girls Club in Concord and Executive Director Chris Emond, accusing the organization of failing to enforce its own policies and reporting sexual abuse. GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

Teegan Paul looks down on the medallion she keeps to remember her cousin that she lost this past December.

Teegan Paul looks down on the medallion she keeps to remember her cousin that she lost this past December. GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

Teegan Paul stands at White Park on Thursday. Paul is suing the Boys and Girls Club in Concord and Executive Director Chris Emond, accusing the organization of failing to enforce its own policies and reporting sexual abuse.

Teegan Paul stands at White Park on Thursday. Paul is suing the Boys and Girls Club in Concord and Executive Director Chris Emond, accusing the organization of failing to enforce its own policies and reporting sexual abuse. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 03-29-2024 1:54 PM

Modified: 04-05-2024 5:21 PM


By the time 16-year-old Teegan Paul finally told her parents, and then police, about the Boys and Girls Club employee who had been sexually assaulting her for years, her mental health had gotten so bad that she couldn’t hide it anymore.

“It was one of the hardest things I ever did,” said Paul, now 22. “But I was never stronger than when I finally was able to express that.”

Even with that act of strength in August 2018 — one that led to the arrest, conviction and incarceration of the former employee — the years that followed were a struggle, a spiral of anger and depression, all while trying to finish high school. With the love of family, therapy and Maeve, the “worst support cat ever,” she climbed out of that dark place. But surviving the abuse, she said, is an ongoing effort that will continue for the rest of her life.

“It’s not linear whatsoever. It can’t be,” she said. “Because it’s something that you have to work on within yourself.”

Eventually, Paul faced what, as the years passed, had continued to gnaw at her.

“I felt like they got away with it... like I half did my job of trying to get justice,” Paul said. So many people who she felt should have stepped in — who heard reports that she, who had just begun high school, and a staffer pushing 30 were “dating,” who noticed how often they went off alone, who could have checked security footage — did nothing. Now, she wants to hold them accountable.

“The anger turned into power,” she said. “I stopped being as angry and I felt like an advocate, rather than a victim.”

Paul is suing the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire in Concord and its executive director, Chris Emond. The suit claims that, by not enforcing its own policies around staff alone time and boundaries with children, flouting its mandatory reporting obligations and covering up red flags widely known among its staff, the organization failed to prevent or stop the abuse.

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“Boys and Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire operates under the highest standards of personal safety, ethical behavior, and integrity. We do not tolerate inappropriate or illegal activity from any staff member, volunteer, or youth member,” the organization said in a written statement. “We remain shocked by this extremely serious matter and continue to be deeply concerned for the well-being of the victim and their family. Crimes of abuse run counter to everything we stand for — no harm should come to any child under any circumstance.”

Encouraging families with questions to reach out, the statement also described a screening process for prospective and current employees but declined further comment on the lawsuit, and Emond declined to comment beyond the statement.

The goal of the suit, its language states, is “to create systemic change and protect New Hampshire’s children not only from predators but from those who would shield abusers through inaction, apathy and dishonesty.”

‘You’re trapped’

Paul first became a member of the Boys and Girls Club in Concord when she was 13 and in middle school. Her parents had recently divorced and she had “debilitating anxiety.” Paul’s mother told the club that her daughter “could not tolerate being on her own” and “was desperate for adult attention and encouragement,” the suit states.

When Paul began attending in the summer and after school, the coordinator for her age group made it clear to her that he was available for support. The two became close: he encouraged Paul to apply for scholarships and gave her leadership roles. He told her she was his favorite.

The staffer, 27-year-old Joshua Adams, was then assigned to pick up Paul, 14, from school and bring her to the club in a small bus each afternoon. There were usually no other kids on the pickup route.

Adams began texting Paul and encouraging her to keep up their communications. This, the suit states, “didn’t strike Teegan as odd,” because “it was normal practice for adult staffers, despite club rules to the contrary,” to text the children, especially the teens, in the program — Adams had text exchanges with other kids and Paul with other staffers.

It began, she said, as “I’m around if you need, here’s my number if you need to reach out to someone.” But it quickly became “love bombing;” he would tell her that, “nobody understands you like I do.”

Their texts and video calls took on a sexual nature. Then Adams began sexually assaulting Paul.

The assaults began on their bus rides alone but eventually happened inside the club itself, occurring “almost daily” for two years — until after both Paul, who had become a counselor-in-training, and Adams left the organization.

“So many people ask me, ‘why didn’t you say anything sooner? Why didn’t you tell anybody?’” Paul said. What people don’t understand, she continued, is how grooming, especially when layered with the pressures and stigmas around sexuality for teen girls, paralyzes victims into silence.

“It’s a slow type of abuse,” she said. “You don’t feel like you can communicate it… there’s so much judgment and then you’re stuck and you’re trapped.

“You just feel like you’re just as guilty because you fell for it.”

‘This was a crime’

Paul’s silence was cemented, she said, by the people around her who ignored a parade of red flags.

“There were so many people around, so many employees, who noticed, had suspicions and didn’t properly go forward with reporting,” she said.

When no one around her expressed concern, it signaled to her that what she was experiencing wasn’t concerning. That message compounded with what her abuser and her internal voice had been telling her, that “it can’t be that bad. It can’t be that bad for you if nobody is reporting this.”

Nobody questioned, the suit states, why the short drive from Paul’s school to the club — or more than one errand where Adams was permitted to bring Paul along — always took so long. When other staffers saw him sit too close to her on a field trip, watched them go off together alone, heard the young children in the program wonder whether the two were married, even saw the two of them exiting a bathroom together with Paul in tears, they did not raise any alarms.

Instead, they told Paul that those things were “weird” and that it was “creepy” that she and her abuser spent so much time together.

Adam’s supervisor became aware that the two frequently texted and that they were Facebook friends, according to the suit. She also heard rumors that the two were “dating.”

Despite pointed conversations with the pair and individually with Paul, club leaders never acted on the possibility that the problematic links they knew of between the two could point to something bigger, the suit states.

Paul was never asked whether anything inappropriate had taken place between her and Adams. Instead, she was warned that she was “going to get the staff in trouble” and was chastised for acting too adult. Her abuser was reminded that social media connections with members were not allowed and was advised to maintain professional boundaries, according to the suit.

After Paul left the club in August 2017, Emond called her mother, worried about a day trip the pair had taken together. On the call, he did not share the reports program leaders had received while Teegan was a member. Laura Paul was later told that the club confronted Adams about the trip and, as a result, he quit — though the suit asserts he resigned before the trip happened — but the organization never internally investigated Adams’ behavior, according to the suit, and it did not go to police.

The abuse continued until March 2018.

The vigorous law enforcement response to her allegations in the fall of 2018 and the prosecution of her abuser that followed were, in one sense, assuring for Paul.

“I felt validated, ” she said. “I was like, ‘so this was a serious thing.’ It could have been avoided, it could have been dealt with, and should have been dealt with. This was a crime.”

At the same time, she was still dogged by self-doubt ingrained in her while she was at the club.

“I was questioning whether I made the right decision” to tell police, she said, “because so many people hadn’t made that decision.”

In 2019, Adams pleaded guilty to one of the thirteen charges of felonious sexual assault he faced as part of a plea deal and was sentenced to between eight and 16 years in prison.

‘I owe it to other children’

Well after her abuser was imprisoned, Paul struggled to heal.

She was hospitalized several times by the lasting pain and anguish inflicted by the abuse. Re-traumatized by the drive past the club and the state prison each day, she had to switch schools.

With therapy and the support of her loved ones, though, she found strength.

“I realized I can be angry about this. It’s fair to be angry about this,” Paul said.

Today, she lives in Loudon and teaches toddlers at a childcare center. Paul has always wanted to work with children, and, working towards a degree, her sights are set on becoming an occupational therapist one day.

Caring for children every day also spotlighted, she said, why she had to push for accountability from those who were supposed to care for her.

“When I think about children that I work with, if I think about something like that happening to them, and them being treated the way I was treated, I would be infuriated. And that’s why I’m doing it,” she said. “I owe it to other children.”

In addition to the damages called for in the suit, Paul wants the Boys and Girls Club — and all childcare facilities — to fortify its policies meant to prevent abuse and for its staff to take seriously their obligations as mandatory reporters. She also wants Emond to resign.

While putting her name beside the graphic details of her experience in the suit is intimidating and difficult, it was important for Paul not to be anonymous. She hopes to empower other survivors by showing them they do not have to be made to hide. The response so far, from both strangers and friends, has been overwhelming.

Paul’s lawyer, Kirk Simoneau, who is also a survivor of abuse, said people from across the country have reached out “because she came forward and put her name on it.”

“The only way you can help remove the stigma is by letting in the light,” he said.

 “I’ll never feel better about what happened,” Paul said. “But the fact that I can stand in it and say this happened, I didn’t realize how much support I could get.”