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 list contains the names of 14 men in Kansas, with dates when the files on them were started, from 1961 to 1985. Six of the men were living in Wichita, one in Newton and one in Arkansas City. Also: two in Leavenworth, and one each in Hoisington, Manhattan, Olathe and Kansas City, Kan.
Three of the names listed from Wichita and Arkansas City matched names of men who years later were convicted of sex crimes, including crimes against children, according to an initial check of state corrections records.
Mike Johnson, Scout executive with the Wichita-based Quivira Council Boy Scouts of America, provided a copy of a national Boys Scout statement but said he couldn’t comment. The Quivira Council covers 30 counties in southern and southeast Kansas and has about 13,000 Scouts and about 4,000 adult leaders.
An array of local authorities – police chiefs, prosecutors, pastors and town Boy Scout leaders among them – quietly shielded scoutmasters and others who allegedly molested children, according to the confidential files.
At the time, those authorities justified their actions as necessary to protect the good name and good works of Scouting. But as detailed in 14,500 pages of files released Thursday by order of the Oregon Supreme Court, their maneuvers protected suspected sexual predators while victims suffered in silence.
At a news conference Thursday, Portland attorney Kelly Clark blasted the Boy Scouts for their continuing legal battles to try to keep the full trove of files secret.
“You do not keep secrets hidden about dangers to children,” said Clark, who in 2010 won a landmark lawsuit against the Boy Scouts on behalf of a plaintiff who was molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s.
The files were shown to a jury in a 2010 Oregon civil suit that the Scouts lost, and the Oregon Supreme Court ruled the files should be made public. After months of objections and redactions, the Scouts and Clark released them.
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 marks an embarrassing betrayal of public trust by another prominent and respected social institution.
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.
In many instances – more than a third, according to the Scouts’ own count – police weren’t told about the alleged abuse.
And there is little mention in the files of concern for the welfare of Scouts who were allegedly abused by their leaders. But there are numerous documents showing compassion for suspected abusers, who were often times sent to psychiatrists or pastors to get help.
In 1972, a Pennsylvania Scouting executive wrote a memo recommending a case against a suspected abuser be dropped with the words: “If it don’t stink, don’t stir it.”
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.”
Response at issue
The rate of abuse among Scouts is the not the focus of their critics – it is, rather, their response to allegations of abuse.
Throughout the files released Thursday are cases in which steps were taken to protect Scouting’s image.
In Newton, Kan., in 1961, the county attorney had what he needed for a prosecution: Two men were arrested and admitted that they had molested Scouts in their care. But neither man was prosecuted.
The entire investigation, the county attorney wrote, was brought about with the cooperation of a local district Scouts executive, who was kept apprised of the investigation’s progress into the men, who had affiliations with both the Scouts and the local YMCA.
“I came to the decision that to openly prosecute would cause great harm to the reputations of two organizations which we have involved here – the Boy Scouts of America and the local YMCA,” he wrote in a letter to a Kansas Scouting executive.
Boy Scout apology
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, long-standing 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 e-mails and other documents that showed these 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 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 over. Everybody 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.
Contributing: Tim Potter of The Eagle, McClatchy Newspapers, Associated Press