Boy Scout ‘perversion’ files released, show years of cover-ups
By DAN ROZEK, ERIKA WURST AND ART GOLAB Staff Reporters October 18, 2012 1:12PM
In a Tuesday, Oct., 16, 2012 photo, Portland attorney Kelly Clark examines some of the 14,500 pages of previously confidential documents created by the Boy Scouts of America concerning child sexual abuse within the organization, in preparation for releasing the documents Thursday, Oct. 18, as he stands in his office in Portland, Ore. The Boy Scouts of America fought to keep those files confidential. (AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens)
Updated: November 20, 2012 10:59AM
For decades, some leaders and volunteers who were supposed to protect young Boy Scouts instead preyed sexually on them.
And, far too often, little or nothing was done to stop those adults from abusing the children in their care or to prosecute them once they had acted.
That’s the disturbing story told in thousands of pages of previously secret Boy Scout files — many released Thursday in response to a lawsuit in Oregon against the long-respected organization.
The files, along with others obtained earlier by the Los Angeles Times from similar lawsuits, describe nearly 5,000 allegations of sexual abuse or attempted abuse lodged against Scout volunteers or leaders between 1947 and 2005.
Those numbers include 283 reports made in Illinois between 1960 and 2004, with 50 of those occurring in Chicago and another 80 in the suburban collars counties.
In Northwest Indiana, there were 14 separate incidents reported between 1964 and 1999, the files show. Statewide in Indiana, there were 109 reports filed between 1961 and 2004.
Scout leaders said they have stepped up efforts in recent years to protect children involved in their programs, including increasing training for leaders and volunteers, requiring reporting of any suspected abuse and even banning one-on-one interactions between adults and young people.
But they acknowledged some children were abused by Scout leaders and that not all reports of sexual attacks were handled properly.
“There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children and in certain cases, our responses to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate or wrong,” National President Wayne Perry said in a statement.
Local Scout officials echoed that sentiment as they apologized for the harm done to children by leaders they trusted.
“We’re sorry for that. We regret any time a child is harmed,” said Charles Dobbins, chief executive officer of the Chicago Area Council of the Boy Scouts, which has about 90,000 young people enrolled in Scouting programs in the Chicago metro area.
Dobbins, though, defended the idea of the so-called “perversion files” kept by the Boys Scouts, which detail claims of abuse lodged against volunteers and leaders. Anyone listed is supposed to be barred from Scouting programs.
“It helps keep kids safe because if you’re on it, you can’t be in scouting activities,” said Dobbins, who has worked in Scouting for nearly 30 years.
But the files did not always serve their intended purpose of keeping dangerous adults away from vulnerable children. Some adults were allowed to continue working in Scouting despite reports being filed against them, according to some of the newly released files.
And an analysis done by the Boy Scouts of more than 1,200 reports of suspected abuse released Thursday shows that in more than a third of the cases, police or law enforcement authorities were never even contacted.
That’s not unusual in some situations where reports of sexual abuse could damage the public prestige of a well-regarded institution, such as the Boy Scouts.
“There’s a concern about protecting the organization. That happens in big organizations and can confuse efforts to solve the problem,” said Dr. Stephen Dinwiddie, head of forensic psychiatry and law at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The files were made public following a 2010 lawsuit in Oregon on behalf of a former Scout molested by his assistant scout master in the 1980s.
Following the close of that trial, the Oregon Supreme Court in June ordered the release of more than 1,200 alleged incidents of sexual abuse made against Scout leaders or volunteers.
The Boy Scouts objected, in part arguing the release could violate the privacy of those who reported the alleged abuse but the organization ultimately opened the files after the names of those making the complaints were redacted.
Experts said the release of such files likely will not discourage reporting of sexual abuse by Scouts.
“When a child feels he’s going to be heard and protected, he won’t be discouraged from reporting,” said Mark Reinecke, a clinical psychologist at Northwestern University.
The Boy Scouts years before the lawsuit ended had revamped policies for protecting children, including requiring criminal background checks for Scout leaders and adopting a new “two-deep” leadership policy that bars a Scout from being alone with leader.
“We never have an adult alone with a Scout,” Dobbins said.
Those are good moves to help prevent future problems, experts said.
“These are the things they should be doing,” Reinecke said.
But the biggest change in the organization, Dobbins said, is there is no tolerance for those who threaten children.
All volunteers and leaders are required to report any abuse to their superiors and to police, he said.
“If it gets reported to me, it gets reported to authorites,” Dobbins said.