Confidential files kept by the Boy Scouts of America on men they suspected of child sex abuse were released today in the U.S. after a two-year court battle.
"For us, the importance is what the Boy Scouts could have done with this information," Paul Mones, one of the attorneys representing victims who were abused as boys, said at a news conference in Portland Ore. "At the trial, they said they had never looked at the files to examine them for any purpose to protect [the boys]."
The release of the files on Thursday involves 20,000 pages of documents the Scouts kept on men inside — and in some cases outside — the organization believed to have committed acts of abuse.
The files included memorandums from the scouting council to the national office that took complaints, letters between local councils, handwritten letters from family members, police reports and newspaper articles.
The court-ordered release of the so-called perversion files from 1965 to 1985 has prompted the organization to pledge that they will go back into the files and report any offenders who may have not been reported to the police when alleged abuse took place.
That could prompt a new round of criminal prosecutions for offenders who have so far escaped justice.
Files kept since 1910 show disclosure failures
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.
The Scouts began keeping the files shortly after their creation in 1910, when pedophilia was largely a crime dealt with privately. 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 Boy Scouts of America 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 US to the plaintiff.
Files kept before 1971 remained secret, until a judge ruled — and the Oregon Supreme Court agreed — that they should be released.
Scouts Canada reviewed recording system
A separate scouting organization, Scouts Canada, has also been at the centre of abuse allegations.
A review of how Scouts Canada handled allegations of abuse by its group leaders, prompted by a fifth estate investigation into the system for recording the names of pedophiles who had infiltrated its ranks and had been removed from the organization, found that dozens of cases reported to Scouts Canada were not passed on to the police.
Despite past assurances by the organization that it had informed police about "every record of abuse" within its ranks, the audit found at least 65 instances where that did not happen.
All those cases were reported to authorities, Scouts Canada said.
Steve Kent, chief commissioner and chair of the board of governors for Scouts Canada, said in an email to CBC News on Thursday that the organization undertook the review because it is committed to showing leadership in child and youth safety.
"We wanted to ensure that we protected the privacy of children, youth and their families while simultaneously making sure that the appropriate authorities had the information they needed to deal with real and potential issues of child abuse," he wrote, adding that the Boy Scouts of America operates in a different environment in terms of legal and privacy requirements.
Kent said Scouts Canada was pleased that Boy Scouts of America was making the records available so the cases can be properly addressed.
"However, we feel sympathy for the people who may have chosen to keep their story private, and may find themselves reliving past and present pain, even though their names have been redacted from public view," he wrote.