LOS ANGELES — The veil was lifted Thursday on decades of confidential sexual abuse allegations in the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America with the court-ordered release of more than 1,200 of the organization’s “perversion files.”
The files offer the public an unprecedented look at how suspected molestations were handled by one of the nation’s leading youth organizations from the early 1960s through 1985, a time when awareness of sexual abuse was evolving rapidly.
“The secrets are out,” said Kelly Clark, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers in an Oregon lawsuit that resulted in a nearly $20 million judgment against the Scouts in 2010. “Child abuse thrives in secrecy and secret systems are where it breeds. And these secrets are out.”
Clark’s office made the files public — minus the names of victims and others who reported suspected abuse — after the Oregon Supreme Court ordered their release in June at the request of news organizations including the Oregonian newspaper of Portland, Oregon Public Broadcasting, The New York Times and The Associated Press.
The Los Angeles Times is incorporating the files into its own online database, which contains information on nearly 5,000 such cases spanning 1947 to January 2005. The database offers a complete record of files during that period except for an unknown number of files that have been purged by the Scouts over the years. In more than 300 cases, the allegations involve someone with ties to a troop or unit in California. The Los Angeles Times database can be found at http://spreadsheets.latimes.com/boyscouts-cases/.
The files refer to 46 individuals in Maine involving Scouting units in at least 38 cities and towns across the state.
In a statement Thursday, the Boy Scouts’ national president, Wayne Perry, underscored the organization’s enhanced child-protection efforts in recent years, including beefed-up background checks and training of leaders and mandatory reporting of all suspected abuse.
He also acknowledged that incidents of abuse have occurred, some mishandled by the Scouts.
“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,” Perry 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.”
In recent months, the Times has published an investigation of those files and thousands of case summaries from 1940 to 2005. The files and summaries were obtained from Seattle attorney Timothy Kosnoff, who has sued the Scouts on behalf of dozens of abuse victims.
The Times investigation has revealed a broad range of patterns in the Scouts’ handling of abuse allegations that echo similar revelations about the Catholic Church and, more recently, the Penn State scandal involving assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
On Wednesday, the Times reported that the files revealed a clear pattern of grooming behavior, in which men seduced their young victims.
In September, the Times reported that 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.
Scouting officials frequently urged admitted offenders to quietly resign and helped many cover their tracks, allowing the molesters to cite bogus reasons for their departure.
In 80 percent of the 500 cases where the Scouts were the first to learn about abuse, 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.
Nine days later, the Boy Scouts announced it would conduct a comprehensive review of some 5,000 files going back to the 1940s and would report to law enforcement any cases it had not previously disclosed.
In August, the Times reported that the blacklist, for years the primary line of defense against child molesters, was repeatedly breached. In more than 125 cases, men allegedly continued to molest Scouts after the organization was first presented with detailed allegations of abusive behavior.
Predators slipped back into the program by falsifying personal information or skirting the registration process. Others were able to jump from troop to troop around the country thanks to clerical errors, computer glitches or the Scouts’ failure to check the blacklist.
In some cases, officials documented abuse but allowed the abuser to continue working with boys while on “probation.” In at least 50 cases, the Boy Scouts expelled suspected abusers, only to discover later that they had re-entered the program and were accused of molesting again.
Media organizations from across the country are expected to mine the files released Thursday, and legal experts say that some of the revelations in the files could lead to lawsuits against the Boy Scouts over their handling of alleged abuse.
The Scouts have warned that the release of the files could have a chilling effect on the reporting of alleged abuse. For nearly a century, the Scouts have maintained the national archive, known inside the organization as the “perversion files,” as a way of preventing men suspected of abuse from re-entering Scouting.
Although never intended for public review, hundreds of files have been submitted as evidence in lawsuits over the years, generally under seal.
The files contain detailed — though often incomplete — accounts of alleged abuse, including handwritten accounts by young victims, court records, police reports and correspondence between local and national Scout officials. Many of the alleged incidents were never reported to the police so the allegations have not been heard in court.
©2012 Los Angeles Times
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The Bangor Daily News contributed to this article