An array of US local authorities – police chiefs, prosecutors, pastors and town Boy Scout leaders among them – quietly shielded scoutmasters and others who allegedly molested children, according to a newly opened trove of confidential files compiled from 1959 to1985.
At the time, those authorities justified their actions as necessary to protect the good name and good works of scouting. But as detailed in 14,500 pages of secret “perversion files” released on Thursday by order of the Oregon Supreme Court, their maneuvers protected suspected sexual predators while victims suffered in silence.
The files document sex abuse allegations across the country, from a small town in the Adirondacks to downtown Los Angeles.
At a news conference on Thursday, Portland attorney Kelly Clark blasted the Boy Scouts for their continuing legal battles to try to keep the full trove of files secret.
“You do not keep secrets hidden about dangers to children,” said Clark, who in 2010 won a landmark lawsuit against the Boy Scouts on behalf of a plaintiff who was molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s.
‘Don’t stir it’
The files were shown to a jury in a 2010 Oregon civil suit that the Scouts lost, and the Oregon Supreme Court ruled the files should be made public. After months of objections and redactions, the Scouts and Clark released them.
The Associated Press obtained copies of the files weeks ahead of Thursday’s release and conducted an extensive review of them, but agreed not to publish the stories until the files were released.
The new files are a window on a much larger collection of documents the Boy Scouts of America began collecting soon after their founding in 1910.
The files, kept at Boy Scout headquarters in Texas, consist of memos from local and national Scout executives, handwritten letters from victims and their parents and newspaper clippings about legal cases. The files contain details about proven molesters, but also unsubstantiated allegations.
Many of the files released on Thursday have been written about before, but this is the first time the earliest ones have been put in the public domain. The 1959-85 files show that on many occasions the files succeeded in keeping pedophiles out of Scouting leadership positions – the reason they were collected in the first place.
But the files document some troubling patterns. In many instances – more than a third, according to the Scouts’ own count – police weren’t told about the alleged abuse.
And there is little mention in the files of concern for the welfare of Scouts who were allegedly abused by their leaders. But there are numerous documents showing compassion for suspected abusers, who were often times sent to psychiatrists or pastors to get help.
In 1972, a Pennsylvania Scouting executive wrote a memo recommending a case against a suspected abuser be dropped with the words: “If it don’t stink, don’t stir it.”
In a statement on Thursday, Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said “There is nothing more important than the safety of our Scouts.”
He said there have been times when Scouts’ responses to sex abuse allegations were “plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong” and the organization extends its “deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families”.
But throughout the files released Thursday are cases in which steps were taken to protect Scouting’s image.
In Newton, Kansas, in 1961, the county attorney had what he needed for a prosecution: Two men were arrested and admitted that they had molested Scouts in their care. But neither man was prosecuted.
The entire investigation, the county attorney wrote, was brought about with the co-operation of a local district Scouts executive, who was kept apprised of the investigation’s progress into the men, who had affiliations with both the Scouts and the local YMCA.
“I came to the decision that to openly prosecute would cause great harm to the reputations of two organizations which we have involved here – the Boy Scouts of America and the local YMCA,” Smith wrote in a letter to a Kansas Scouting executive.