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Boy Scouts covered for child molesters, review of files shows Decades worth of files reveal that allegations were concealed from parents, police and the public.

  • Los Angeles Times
  • Published Sunday, Sep. 16, 2012, at 10:33 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Sep. 17, 2012, at 9:43 a.m.

— Over two decades, the Boy Scouts of America failed to report hundreds of alleged child molesters to police and often hid the allegations from parents and the public.

A Los Angeles Times review of 1,600 confidential files dating from 1970 to 1991 has found that Scouting officials frequently urged admitted offenders to quietly resign — and helped many cover their tracks.

Volunteers and employees suspected of abuse were allowed to leave citing bogus reasons such as business demands, “chronic brain dysfunction” and duties at a Shakespeare festival.

The details are contained in the organization’s confidential “perversion files,” a blacklist of alleged molesters, that the Scouts have used internally since 1919. Scouts’ lawyers around the country have been fighting in court to keep the files from public view.

As the Times reported in August, the blacklist often didn’t work: Some men expelled for alleged abuses slipped back into the program and were accused of molesting again. Now, a more extensive review has shown that Scouts sometimes abetted molesters by keeping allegations under wraps.

In the majority of cases, the Scouts learned of alleged abuse after it had been reported to authorities. But in more than 500 instances, the Scouts learned about it from victims, parents, staff members or anonymous tips.

In about 400 of those cases — 80 percent — there is no record of Scouting officials reporting the allegations to police. In more than 100 of the cases, officials actively sought to conceal the alleged abuse or allowed the suspects to hide it, the Times found.

In 1982, a Michigan Boy Scout camp director who learned of allegations of repeated abuse by a staff member told police he didn’t promptly report them because his bosses wanted to protect the reputation of the Scouts and the accused staff member.

“He stated that he had been advised by his supervisors and legal counsel that he should neutralize the situation and keep it quiet,” according to a police report in the file.

That same year, the director of a Boy Scout camp in Virginia wrote to the Scouts’ top lawyer, asking for help dealing with a veteran employee suspected of a “lifelong pattern” of abuse that had not been reported to police.

“When a problem has surfaced, he has been asked to leave a position ‘of his own free will’ rather than risk further investigation,” the director wrote. “The time has come for someone to make a stand and prevent further occurrences.”

There is no indication the Scouts took the matter to law enforcement.

Scouting officials declined to be interviewed for this article. In a prepared statement, spokesman Deron Smith said, “We have always cooperated fully with any request from law enforcement and today require our members to report even suspicion of abuse directly to their local authorities.”

The organization instituted that requirement in 2010. Before then, the policy was to obey state laws, which didn’t always require youth groups to report abuse.

In some instances, however, the Scouts may have violated those state laws. Since the early 1970s, for example, New Jersey has required anyone who suspects child abuse to report it. In several cases there, the Scouts received firsthand reports of alleged abuses, but nothing in the files indicates they informed authorities.

In the 1970s and ’80s, secrecy was embedded in the Scouts’ policies and procedures for handling child sexual abuse.

A cover sheet that accompanied many confidential files included a check box labeled “Internal (only scouts know)” as an option for how cases were resolved. A form letter sent to leaders being dismissed over abuse allegations stated: “We are making no accusations and will not release this information to anyone, so our action in no way will affect your standing in the community.”

The files at times provide an incomplete account of how abuse allegations were resolved. In his statement, the Scouting spokesman said, “In many instances, basic details are missing as they were not relevant to the BSA’s sole reason for keeping files, which was to help identify and keep a list of individuals deemed to be unfit for membership in Scouting.”

Still, they reveal a culture in which even known molesters were shown extraordinary deference.

In a 1987 case in Washington state, a district executive wrote to the national office complaining that his boss had refused to put a former scoutmaster on the blacklist, despite a molestation conviction, “because he has done so much for camp and is a nice guy.”

A Maryland leader, who in 1990 “readily agreed” that abuse allegations against him were true, was given six weeks to resign and told he could give “his associates whatever reason that he chose,” his file shows.

“This gave him an opportunity to withdraw from Scouting in a graceful manner to be determined by him,” an official wrote. “We also reminded (him) that he had agreed to keep the whole matter confidential and we would not talk to anyone in order to give (him) complete ability to voluntarily withdraw.”

In many cases, Scouting officials said they were keeping allegations quiet as a way of sparing young victims embarrassment.

The Boy Scouts’ lawyers have long contended that keeping such files confidential is key to protecting the privacy of victims, of those who report sexual abuse and of anyone falsely accused. But over the years, hundreds of the files have been admitted into evidence — usually under seal — in lawsuits brought by alleged victims. The Times reviewed 1,600 of the nearly 1,900 files that came to light as a result of a 1992 court case.

Hundreds more will soon become widely available.

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