PORTLAND, Ore. — The Boy Scouts of America plan to begin doing what critics argue they should have done decades ago — bring suspected abusers named in the organization’s so-called perversion files to the attention of police departments and sheriff’s offices across the country.
The Scouts have, until now, argued they did all they could to prevent sex abuse within their ranks by spending a century tracking pedophiles and using those records to keep known sex offenders out of their organization. But a court-ordered release of the perversion files from 1965 to 1985, expected sometime in October, has prompted Scouts spokesman Deron Smith to say the organization will go back into the files and report any offenders who may have fallen through the cracks.
Smith said Mike Johnson, the group’s youth protection director and a former police detective, will lead the review.
That could prompt a new round of criminal prosecutions for offenders who have so far escaped justice, said Clatsop County, Ore., District Attorney Josh Marquis. But investigations may require more than what most Scout files provide, including victims willing to cooperate.
“Let’s even assume the suspect confessed,” he said. “An uncorroborated confession is not sufficient for a conviction.”
Many states have no statutes of limitations for children victimized when they were younger than 16, so even decades-old crimes could be fair game.
The Scouts began keeping the files shortly after their creation in 1910, when pedophilia was largely a crime dealt with privately — not publicly. The organization argues that the files helped them track offenders and protect children. But some of the files released in 1991, detailing cases from 1971 to 1991, showed repeated instances of Scouts leaders failing to disclose sex abuse to authorities, even when they had a confession.
A lawsuit culminated in April 2010 with the jury ruling the BSA had failed to protect the plaintiff from a pedophile assistant Scoutmaster in the 1980s, even though that man had previously admitted molesting Scouts. The jury awarded $20 million to the plaintiff.
Files kept before 1971 remained secret, until a judge ruled — and the Oregon Supreme Court agreed — that they should be released. Attorneys are now redacting the addresses and other identifying material from the files, which stretch from 1965 to 1985.
The release means that alleged abusers, and the names of Scout leaders who failed to report them, will be made public soon in tens of thousands of pages of confidential documents —— one of the largest troves of the files the BSA has ever been forced to produce. A psychiatrist who reviewed the files, Dr. Jennifer Warren, found that police were involved in about two-thirds of the cases from 1965-1985.
Kelly Clark, a Portland attorney who won a landmark 2010 lawsuit against the Boy Scouts, says the documents show that even though the Scouts have been collecting the files nearly since the Boy Scouts’ founding in 1910, the organization failed to use them to protect boys from pedophiles.
“What’s significant is that the Boy Scouts could have these files for so long and not learn from them,” Clark said.
Last week, the Scouts made public an internal report they compiled on the files by Warren, the psychiatrist who served as an expert witness for the Scouts in the 2010 Portland lawsuit. As part of the report, they emphasized the files’ success in preventing pedophiles from entering Scouting ranks, but acknowledged the organization’s failure to stop some abusers.
“In some instances we failed to defend Scouts from those who would do them harm,” the Scouts said in a statement accompanying the report. “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.”
Warren’s report found that, of 930 files created between January 1965 and June 1984, there were 1,622 victims. Of the total victims, at least 1,302 were involved in Scouting.
“My review of these files indicates that the reported rate of sexual abuse in Scouting has been very low,” Warren wrote in the report.
Warren compared the rate of victimization in the Scouts — about 1.4 to 2.1 youth per 100,000 — to the nationally-reported incidence of child abuse by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which found that in 1980, 70 per 100,000 children experience sexual exploitation each year.
Warren’s analysis didn’t account for the fact that files were destroyed for offenders who died or turned 75 years old, something she said didn’t affect her overall conclusions.
Critics contend the organization’s legal battles reflect a long-standing effort to protect the Boy Scouts’ reputation, and to try to limit any lawsuits.
“It’s a culture of denial and concealment,” said Timothy Kosnoff, a Seattle attorney who in 2006 obtained documents on 5,200 alleged pedophiles who went into the files from 1949-2005.