Just-released “perversion files” of sexual abuse allegations against former leaders of the Boy Scouts of America offer a horrifying and extraordinary look inside 20 years of possible misconduct inside one of the country’s most revered youth institutions.
The files, which include 14,500 pages of abuse reports, were released online by Portland, Ore., attorney Kelly Clark, who has represented some of the accusers in lawsuits against the Scouts. The allegations range from indecent exposure to “suspected immoral relations with juveniles.” Most of the 1,200 leaders and volunteers who are named in the files were booted and remained out of the Scouts after their placement in an “Ineligible Volunteer” list, said Clark. Others slipped back in, he said at a press conference on Thursday, just before releasing the files on his website.
“The problem wasn’t that [the Scouts] weren’t trying to keep the bad guys out. They were,” Clark said. “But you can’t just keep a list. At some point you have an obligation to read what’s going on, and say, ‘What we’re doing isn’t working.’”
The list, which includes the names of people who were convicted and others who were never charged and which spans the years between 1965 and 1985, was released after a two-year court battle that wound up in the hands of the Oregon Supreme Court. It stemmed from a 2007 lawsuit Clark filed on behalf of former Boy Scout Kerry Lewis, of Oregon. Lewis, who is now 40, sued the organization for failing to protect him for abuse at the hands of an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s. That scoutmaster, Timur Dykes, confessed in 1973 to another scouting leader that he had molested 17 boys in his troop, but he was gradually allowed back into the organization, before turning his attention to Lewis. Dykes eventually went to prison for his crimes and is now living in Portland, as a registered sex offender. Lewis’s lawsuit resulted in an $18.5 million jury award.
A subsequent lawsuit was launched by several media organizations to release the “perversion files” the Boy Scouts have been quietly compiling over the past century. In June, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the files be released. The Boy Scouts have yet to comply, so Clark said he took matters into his own hands on Thursday.
In a preemptive response Wednesday to the release, the Scouts described the files as “a list of people who do not meet the BSA’s membership standards because of known or suspected abuse or other inappropriate conduct either inside or outside of Scouting.” The release goes on to apologize to “victims and their families,” and said “today Scouting is a leader among youth-serving organizations in preventing child abuse.”
Victims’ advocates say the release of the documents could lead to a new spate of criminal prosecutions or civil lawsuits from newly emboldened victims. Seattle attorney Tim Kosnoff is among those calling for a congressional probe. He has litigated cases against the Boy Scouts and other institutions harboring sex offenders for the past two decades, and has also released a spreadsheet with a brief summary of the files Clark unveiled today. Both sets of files, he told The Daily Beast, reveal several things:
Patterns. Most of the files describe an individual with no logical reason to be interested in Scouting, Kosnoff said. “Single men, men without children in Scouting, with an intense interest in working with boys. It doesn’t mean somebody like that is necessarily a pedophile, but it’s a profile overwhelmingly associated with these files.” Another common thread: one in 20 of the people in the files were former employees of Boy Scouts of America, Kosnoff said, including the chairman of the Scout's Youth Protection League, Douglas Smith, convicted on charges of trafficking child pornography in 2005.
Failure to report suspected abuse. “There are numerous examples where it was clear that the Boy Scouts were way more concerned with protecting their reputation from scandals,” Kosnoff said. “Known abusers would come back into Scouting on a ‘probation period.’ The system was easy to beat, because all they had to do was hang a middle initial or change a Social Security number to get back in.”
The files are incomplete. Kosnoff says 150 former Scouts have hired him to represent them in abuse cases. Of those, only one of them has named an abuser who is on the official list.
The Boy Scouts say the files should inform people of something entirely different: how hard the organization has worked to protect children.
“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,” wrote Wayne Perry, the organization’s president, in the press release. He says things are different today. “The BSA requires background checks, comprehensive training programs for volunteers, staff, youth, and parents and mandates reporting of even suspected abuse.”
The problem is, Kelly said at the press conference, many of those changes only happened recently, decades after a clear pattern had developed. Only in 2011, for example, did the organization require mandatory reporting of suspected abuse. Only two years ago did it begin mandatory “youth protection training” for Scouting volunteers. Only in 2003 did it implement third-party, computerized criminal background checks for all new adult volunteers.
One question that remains unanswered is what will happen to people who are named, but had no specific charges against them other than suspicion of mere “homosexuality.”
“For that,” Clark said. “I have no explanation or apology. The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that these are now public records.”