A law firm in Portland, Oregon released files Thursday that indicate the Boy Scouts of America may have concealed instances of child molestation by adults in the organization for decades.
The Portland law firm O’Donnell, Clark & Crew is making public thousands of files kept by the Boy Scouts of America on men they suspected of child sexual abuse. The files, all created between 1965-1985, should provide insight into how one of the nation's largest youth organizations handled reports and suspicions of child molestors among its volunteers.
The Oregon Supreme Court ordered the files' release after a 2010 case involving a scout leader's abuse of six Portland boys, one of whom took the BSA to court and won a record-breaking $18.5 million punitive award against the group. The victim was able to show that the BSA knew the man had abused children in the past, but he slipped through the organization's own system for weeding out predators.
During that trial, and a handful of others around the country, the existence of the BSA's "ineligible volunteers" list came to light. Apparently in existence nearly since the BSA began in 1910, the list was used to keep potential child abusers out. In at least a small number of cases, however, strong evidence of child abuse was not reported to law enforcement; instead, BSA quietly banned the accused individual from the organization. In some cases, attorneys said, it was unclear whether the list also included those merely suspected of being homosexual.
The Boy Scouts released a statement on the release of the files which said that the Ineligible Volunteer files were first established 80 years ago.
"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," Boy Scouts of America President Wayne Perry said in the statement. However, he said that experts have found that the Ineligible Volunteer files function well in protecting Scouts.
"The files are kept confidential by Scouting because the BSA believes that confidentiality encourages prompt reporting of abuse," the statement said.
The files were independently reviewed by professor of psychiatry Janet Warren.
In 2010, Boy Scouts of America changed its policy to include mandatory reporting of suspected abuse. Previously, the organization directed troops to follow local laws on reporting suspicions of abuse to law enforcement. The group says it'll review all of its files to determine whether any cases should be reported to authorities.
Paul Mones, an attorney on the case, praised BSA for offering to investigate its files. But he said the files' release should provide lessons for moving forward in preventing child abuse—including, that whatever the BSA was doing to prevent molestors from entering its ranks simply wasn't enough.
"At some point, you can't just keep a list," Mones said. "You need to look at what's going on."
The Los Angeles Times has pieced together information from past Boy Scout cases, and made that data searchable. We'll be posting all the information from today's court release as soon as it's available. Do you have a connection to the Boy Scouts? Let us know confidentially.
We'll update this story as information becomes available.
This story has been updated.