The publication Thursday of 20 years worth of secret records kept by the Boy Scouts of America reveal a widespread effort by the organization to cover up a scandal involving allegations of sexual abuse against 1,200 scout leaders.
The records, known within the Boy Scouts itself as the “perversion files,” cover the years 1965-1985 and detail the names of the alleged perpetrators, their hometowns and other information. The files were results of the organization’s own internal investigations into sexual abuse among its leaders and include court documents, newspapers clippings in cases where charges were actually filed and other material.
Not every person whose name was contained within the thousands of pages – which the scouts officially called the “Ineligible Volunteer Files” – ever actually faced charges or was convicted. Some files only reflected concerns about someone.
But they span the nation, involving Boy Scout organizations and leaders from small towns to bustling cities. Their disclosure also again marks an embarrassing betrayal of public trust by another prominent and respected social institution.
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Like the recent pedophilia scandals involving Penn State University and the Roman Catholic Church, the Boy Scout cases involve trusted members of the community who had access to children they were supposed to mentor and to protect, but who instead exploited that access to groom and to molest the most vulnerable of them.
Attorney Paul Mones, whose Oregon law firm was involved in the lawsuit against the Boy Scouts and which led to the files’ disclosure, told a news conference on Thursday that they symbolize “the anguish of thousands of scouts.” The Oregon Supreme Court ordered the release of the documents.
In a statement Thursday, Boy Scouts National President Wayne Perry apologized for the abuse and the failure to protect children.
"There have been instances where people misused their positions in scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong,” the statement said. “Where those involved in scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families.”
Based in Irving, Texas, the century-old Boy Scouts of America is one of the nation’s largest volunteer organizations, with more than 100 million youth participants and 33 million adult scout leaders. Those few scouts, around 2 percent, who attain the highest rank of Eagle Scout comprise an elite group that includes members of Congress, governors, astronauts, professional athletes, business executives and film directors.
Trustworthiness is one of the 12 points of the Scout Law. But experts said that creates an opportunity for predators because few people would look for them in a respected, longstanding institution like the Boy Scouts.
“As a society, we’ve just got to somehow get over this notion that some men, some women, some institutions, are 100 percent pristine and trustworthy,” said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We’ve got to look at actual behavior, not reputation.”
In the Penn State case, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky abused young boys he met through his youth charity. Sandusky, who was convicted in June on 45 counts of child sex abuse and sentenced this month to a minimum of 30 years in prison, also was a trusted figure in the community.
A report on the Penn State case from former FBI Director Louis Freeh found emails and other documents that showed university officials had multiple opportunities to stop Sandusky, but they instead concealed what they knew from the university and the public.
It took a three-year state grand jury investigation to bring Sandusky’s activities, and the university’s cover-up, to light.
Nearly 11,000 people accused U.S. Catholic priests of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002, and the church has faced legal settlements of more than $2 billion. Some high-ranking church leaders were found to have reassigned abusive priests to parishes where they molested more children. And the church’s legal and financial troubles are far from over, and recently, the scandal has spread to congregations in Europe.
Like these scandals and others, the Boy Scout files could produce criminal trials and years of litigation, as well as potentially millions of dollars in damages.
Jennifer Freyd, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon and an expert on institutional betrayal, said: “The dynamics that can cause institutions to turn a blind eye are powerful dynamics that will show up over and overEverybody can make a mistake. In the end, it’s the cover-up that will do you in.”
SEARCH FOR NAMES IN THE FILES
The names were listed in files concerning allegations of child sexual abuse in the Boy Scout system. In a number of the cases, the allegations were later substantiated by court proceedings. However, in a great many cases no such substantiation ever occurred.
More information on individual cases is available at the website of the Oregon law firm that pushed for their release.
Steve Rothaus of The Miami Herald contributed to this article.