The Boy Scouts of America plan to begin doing what critics say they should have done decades ago — bring suspected sex abusers named in the organization's so-called perversion files to the attention of authorities.
The Scouts had argued they did all they could to prevent sex abuse 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 been missed.
That could prompt a new round of criminal prosecutions for offenders who have so far escaped justice. 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 perversion files shortly after the youth group's creation in 1910, when sex abuse was largely a crime largely 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 Scouts 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.
Court ordered release
Files kept before 1971 remained secret, until a judge ruled that they should be released.
A psychiatrist who reviewed the files, Dr. Jennifer Warren, found that of 930 files created between January 1965 and June 1984, there were 1,622 victims.
"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, something she said didn't affect her overall conclusions.
Last week, the Scouts made public Warren's report and 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.
Critics contend the organization's legal battles reflect a long-standing effort to protect the Boy Scouts' reputation and to limit 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.