scorecardresearch

Boy Scout files reveal repeated child sex abuse

Predators moved to other troops, documents show

Victim Kerry Lewis reacted to a guilty verdict in a 2010 case against a Portland, Ore., Boy Scout leader.
Victim Kerry Lewis reacted to a guilty verdict in a 2010 case against a Portland, Ore., Boy Scout leader.(RICK BOWMER/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

LOS ANGELES — Internal documents from the Boy Scouts of America reveal more than 125 cases nationwide in which men suspected of molestation allegedly continued to abuse Scouts, despite a blacklist meant to protect boys from sexual predators.

A Los Angeles Times review of more than 1,200 files from 1970 to 1991 found suspected abusers regularly remained in the organization after officials were first presented with sexual misconduct allegations.

Predators moved from troop to troop because of clerical errors, computer glitches, or the organization’s failure to check the blacklist, the paper said.

In at least 50 cases, the Boy Scouts expelled suspected abusers, only to discover they had reentered the organization and were accused of molesting again. In other cases, officials failed to document reports of abuse in the first place, letting offenders stay in the program until new allegations came to light, the Times reported.

Advertisement



One scoutmaster was expelled in 1970 on grounds of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy in Indiana. After being convicted of the crime, he went on to join two troops in Illinois between 1971 and 1988. He later admitted to molesting more than 100 boys, was convicted of the sexual assault of a Scout in 1989, and was sentenced to 100 years in prison, according to his file and court records.

In 1991, a Scout leader convicted of abusing a boy in Minnesota returned to his old troop shortly after getting out of jail.

In response to the Times’ findings, the Boy Scouts issued a statement that said in part:

‘‘The Boy Scouts of America believes even a single instance of abuse is unacceptable, and we regret there have been times when the BSA’s best efforts to protect children were insufficient. For that we are very sorry and extend our deepest sympathies to victims. We are committed to the ongoing enhancement of our program, in line with evolving best practices for protecting youth.’’

Advertisement



The blacklist naming suspected child molesters included admissions of guilt as well as unproven allegations. It is used to screen applicants for volunteer and paid positions.

The confidential documents have come to light in recent years in lawsuits by former Boy Scouts, accusing the group of failing to detect abuses, exclude known pedophiles, or turn in offenders to authorities.

Boy Scout officials say they have used the files to prevent hundreds of men who had been expelled for alleged sexual abuse from returning to the organization.

Only scouting officials have had access to the files, which are kept in 15 locked cabinets at the organization’s headquarters in Irving, Texas. But over the years, hundreds of the files have been admitted as evidence, usually under seal, in lawsuits by former Boy Scouts alleging a pattern of abuse in the organization.

The organization has fought in court to keep the records from public view, saying confidentiality was needed to protect victims, witnesses, and those falsely accused.

Many of the files will soon be made public as a result of an Oregon Supreme Court decision. The Associated Press, the New York Times, the Oregonian, and other media outlets petitioned for the release of 1,247 files from 1965 to 1984 that had been admitted as sealed evidence in a 2010 lawsuit.

The Los Angeles Times analyzed a set of files that were submitted in a California court case in 1992. Their contents vary but often include biographical information on the accused, witness statements, police reports, parent complaints, news clippings, and correspondence between local Boy Scout officials and national headquarters, according to the paper.

Advertisement



The Boy Scouts of America says it continues to use the confidential files as part of its effort to prevent child abuse.

In recent decades, it has added other protective measures. In 1988, for instance, the organization did away with probation; its policy now is to expel anyone suspected in “good faith” of abuse. In 2008, criminal background checks were required on all volunteers, and in 2010 the organization required all suspected abuse to be reported to law enforcement.

The extent to which these measures have succeeded has been impossible to gauge without full access to the records.

In some instances in which the records are available, the Boy Scouts of America chose to give alleged molesters a second chance, the Times reported.

In a 1992 deposition, Paul Ernst, then administrator the national confidential files, testified that alleged abusers were given probation — which required periodic updates on the person’s behavior — only if evidence of molestation was “extremely weak.”

The Boy Scouts abolished probation and suspensions in 1988.

An individual’s confidential file was generally destroyed after probation was completed. But the files sometimes survived when the men went on to abuse again. Several of those cases suggest the initial evidence of abuse was strong.

The Boy Scouts of American has about 2.7 million youth members in all.

Advertisement