The Boy Scouts of America’s so-called “perversion files” paint a disturbing portrait, both of an institution’s widespread cover-up of abuse spanning decades and of an era in which efforts to protect the innocent were often misguided.
The files, some 14,500 pages of which were released Thursday, comprise records of former Scout leaders or volunteers who were banned from the group for either alleged sexual misconduct or prior convictions. The files were kept confidential, a record of people who weren’t to be allowed back into the fold.
Some of the files contain only sparse information; one man on the list was “found in a compromising situation with a minor.” Others contain court documents, newspaper clippings, or handwritten letters, and some have detailed accounts of specific incidents. In 1984, for example, an Oregon man was added to the list after it was discovered that he had previously been convicted of sodomy. According to the enclosed sheriff’s report, the man took a 13-year-old boy on a camping trip and, after setting up camp, told the boy “that they should zip their sleeping bags together in order to keep warm during the night.” He then took off his clothes, saying “that he never wore any clothing when he was sleeping in a down sleeping bag as they were too warm.” The boy awoke to find the man touching his penis.
The files were posted online by Portland, Ore., attorney Kelly Clark, who obtained them as part of a 2007 lawsuit filed on behalf of former Oregon Boy Scout Kerry Lewis. Lewis, now 40, sued the Boy Scouts in Multnomah County Circuit Court, alleging that the organization failed to protect him from abuse at the hands of an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s. The scoutmaster, Timur Dykes, confessed in 1973 to another leader that he had molested 17 boys in his troop. He was nevertheless let back into the organization. Dykes ultimately went to prison for his crimes and now lives in Portland as a registered sex offender. Lewis was awarded $18.5 million in damages.
The files, which span only the years between 1965 and 1985, were made public after several media outlets sued to have them released. The Oregon Supreme Court ruled in June that the Boy Scouts had to make the files public. Clark says the Scouts weren’t moving quickly enough, so he decided to post them himself.
The records vary. In one file, a man is described as being fined $100 by a court in 1967 for “a disorderly charge (sex)” involving a 13-year-old boy. In another file, someone is accused by a 12-year-old boy of molestation, but the Scouts decided not to pursue criminal charges because “it was decided that prosecuting the case would not be in the best interest of the juvenile boy.” There are Scouts banned after convictions for sodomy, molestation, child pornography, and rape. There are sad graphic descriptions: “Registrant initiated a 14-year-old counselor in training by hitting his private areas and putting a massager on his testicles ... The boy’s father decided not to press charges because of undue harm to the camp and to Scouting,” and “grabbed him by the crotch, showed him a pistol.”
Caught up in the “perversion” dragnet are also men kicked out of the Boy Scouts who appear to have only been suspected of being gay, not because they tried to hurt anyone. There are descriptions as confusing as “not the same man” and as vague as “removed from the volunteer list” without further explanation.
In one letter, director of registration Basil F. Starkey writes to a Scout executive in Dallas to say a Scout leader there should be banned. “We do not have too much specific information on this man, but we have enough to convince us, beyond any doubt, that he is certainly not fit to be in scouting,” writes Starkey.
Scouting officials declined to comment on specific files. In an email to The Daily Beast, spokesman Deron Smith said “the Boy Scouts files have always been maintained solely to protect youth by helping to keep unfit individuals out of Scouting. The Files are essentially a “list” of people that do not meet BSA’s standards because of known or suspected abuse or other inappropriate conduct either inside or outside Scouting. The BSA removes members based on known abuse or suspicion alone—sometimes even when brought to our attention anonymously. We can act on information where law enforcement cannot.”
Clark acknowledged at a press conference Thursday that there may be innocent men in the files he released, but he said he makes no apologies for distributing the list. Nor does Seattle attorney Tim Kosnoff, who has also released a list of names he says are from the Boy Scouts’ files. Kosnoff’s list, culled from cases he has litigated and from those of a retired attorney who wrote a book about the Boy Scouts called Scout’s Honor, spans the years from 1971 to 1991. Kosnoff said he had no specific authority from the court to publish the names, but said if he didn’t, he’d feel he was keeping a secret.
After setting up camp, the Scout leader told the boy “that they should zip their sleeping bags together in order to keep warm during the night.”
“All I’m reporting is that there were 1,900 cases the Boy Scouts deemed sufficiently credible to ban them from Scouting,” he said. “I take no position one way or the other about whether they’re innocent or guilty. If somebody wants to come after me, fine. I figure if I’m not releasing these secrets, I’m keeping them. I’m not going to do that.”
Some of the files shed light on how parents of alleged victims handled their sons’ cases. A man from Westminster, Md., got kicked out of the Scouts in 1983, when he was 33 years old, after an Eagle Scout accused the leader of offering him a “blow job.” In a letter that is included in the file, the boy said he consented only because he worried about what the leader might “do to my scouting career.”
In a subsequent letter also in that file, the Scout’s parents said they were “floored that our son was imposed upon by a homosexual act” and demanded “immediate action.” They were worried about other potential victims, they said, and that the man “must be stopped!” But they also said they knew the Boy Scouts “do not condone this kind of corruption” and that they wouldn’t press charges, as long as the leader agreed to resign. He did resign, but the files don’t make it clear whether the police were ever notified.
In another file, a Scouting executive in Texas writes to the national office to say one of his Scout leaders was apparently “convicted of some type of molestation in a court of law” in 1982. The letter goes on to say that the man’s friends “feel he was not guilty,” and so the executive isn’t sure how to handle the situation. Paul Ernst, listed as director of registration for the Scouts, replied: “It was indicated that this man has been convicted in court of 2nd degree sexual abuse. I note that the newspaper article also indicates that this person is to have no contact with boys 16 years old or younger, and, therefore, I think that most parents would not want him associated with their sons in a scout troop. I understand that many times friends do not feel that someone is guilty but the court of law right now takes jurisdiction and precedence in such cases and I would have to say from the information you have sent me, I would refuse to register the individual.”
Ernst then adds that things might change in the future: “We certainly would review the matter in another four or five years and see what has happened in the meantime.”