Release of abuse files creates new challenge for Boy Scouts of America
Portland attorney Kelly Clark, talks about some of the 14,500 pages of previously confidential documents created by the Boy Scouts of America, at right beneath a photo of Oregon boy scout Kerry Lewis, concerning child sexual abuse within the organization, at a press conference to release the documents in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Oct., 18, 2012. The Boy Scouts of America fought to keep those files confidential. (AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens)
Portland attorney Paul Mones, right, with Kelly Clark, talks about some of the 14,500 pages of previously confidential documents created by the Boy Scouts of America concerning child sexual abuse within the organization, at a press conference to publicly release the documents in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Oct., 18, 2012. The Boy Scouts of America fought to keep those files confidential. (AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens)
True to their motto, the Boy Scouts tried to be prepared. For months, they braced for the backlash sure to follow the court-ordered release of voluminous confidential files detailing decades of alleged sex abuse by Scout leaders.
Now the files are public, lawyers are calling for a congressional investigation and the Boy Scouts of America – as so often in recent years – finds itself embattled.
The files released last week are old – dating from 1959 to 1985. Many of the alleged abusers listed in the files may well be dead. And the Scouts, while apologizing for past mistakes, have significantly improved their youth protection program in recent years.
Still, release of 14,500 pages on alleged abusers is an unwelcome development for an organization struggling to halt a decades-long membership drop while incurring relentless criticism for its policy of excluding gays.
“It does pose a challenge for the Scouts, whether they’re going to be able to win back the confidence of the public,” said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. “I’m sure for some period of time, there’s going to be a concern.”
Before the files’ release, the Scouts commissioned an internal review by a University of Virginia psychiatrist, Dr. Janet Warren, who tallied more than 1,600 abuse victims in her review of the confidential records. She described the rate of abuse with the Scouts as “very low” compared with the national rate and suggested boys were safer in the Scouts than elsewhere in their communities.
Since the files were released – the consequence of a successful $20 million lawsuit against the Scouts in Portland, Ore. – the BSA has apologized for not following up on some of the allegations that were documented. It also has stressed the strides made by the organization to improve its youth protection policy.
Among other measures, the Scouts now prohibit one-on-one adult-youth activities, mandate criminal background checks for all staff who work with youth and include an insert for parents about child protection in the handbook issued to new Scouts.
All adult volunteers must take child-protection training and also are directed to report suspected child abuse to law enforcement authorities and Scout leaders, even if this would not be required by state law.