Seeing south-central Kansas show up in the Boy Scouts of America’s “perversion files” was a shock – and a reminder, like the Penn State and Catholic Church scandals, that there is no justice for children victimized by sexual predators unless authorities do the right thing.
The shame is that the recent progress in identifying and prosecuting child sexual abuse doesn’t help the victims of crimes committed and covered up so long ago.
The 14,500 pages of confidential files, dating from 1959 to 1985, were released last week by order of the Oregon Supreme Court. According to Associated Press, the 14 Kansas cases in the files include six from troops in Wichita, one from Arkansas City, and the shocking story of a Newton Scoutmaster who admitted holding all-night parties at his home in which he took a boy at a time into his bedroom for “immoral acts.” An investigation revealed that perhaps 10 boys had been molested by the man, who also was affiliated with the local YMCA; a second man acknowledged he had molested at least two Scouts.
The files yielded a 1961 letter from the then-Harvey County attorney explaining his decision not to prosecute the men because doing so “would cause great harm to the reputations” of the Boy Scouts organization and the local YMCA, and also damage the reputations of several churches in town. He wrote that he felt “the price which the community would have to pay for the punishment of these two individuals would be too great, in view of the fact that the damage thusly done to these organizations would be serious and lasting.” Instead, according to the letter, the men were required to cut all ties with youth groups and get psychiatric treatment.
No doubt there would have been fallout for the groups and pain for the community. But ask those who were molested as children about the “serious and lasting” damage done to them.
Ignoring such criminal behavior in an effort to spare reputations, institutions and communities merely compounds the offense by treating victims as if they and their suffering don’t matter.
The cover-ups also end up destroying more lives, as predators who should be off the streets instead are shuffled around to new positions. Three of the named abusers in the Wichita and Arkansas City cases were convicted years later of sex crimes, including crimes against children.
It’s important to note that the Boy Scouts organization has changed, having adopted such preventive measures as criminal background checks, training programs and mandatory reporting of abuse to law enforcement. Kansas law is far more enlightened on the issue, too, mandating long prison terms for those who rape and exploit children.
But these changes have come too late for thousands of child victims, who have been victimized first by their abusers and again by the silence of organizations meant to serve and nurture them.