The publication on Thursday of 20 years worth of secret records kept by the Boy Scouts of America reveals a widespread effort by the organization to cover up a scandal involving allegations of sexual abuse against 1,200 Scouts leaders — including more than two dozen in South Florida.
The records, known within the Boy Scouts itself as the “perversion files,” cover the years 1965-1985 and detail the names of the alleged perpetrators, their hometowns and other information, including religion, when it was known.
About 30 of the 70 Florida cases occurred between the early 1960s and mid-1980s in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, according to documents released Thursday.
Half of those cases occurred in Miami-Dade County, including Miami, Opa-locka, Hialeah, Virginia Gardens and North Miami Beach.
The files were results of the organization’s own internal investigations into sexual abuse among its leaders and include court documents, newspapers clippings in cases where charges were actually filed and other material.
Not every person whose name was contained within the thousands of pages — which the Scouts officially called the “Ineligible Volunteer Files” — ever actually faced charges or was convicted. Some files only reflected concerns about someone.
But they span the nation, involving Boy Scouts organizations and leaders from small towns to bustling cities. Their disclosure also again marks an embarrassing betrayal of public trust by another prominent and respected social institution.
“This is like 2002 for the church’s abuse scandal,” said Miami attorney Jeff Herman, who since 1997 has handled more than 100 abuse cases against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami. “That’s when it all snowballed and so many victims came forward.”
Herman said he currently is working on three South Florida cases involving youths allegedly molested by Scouts leaders.
Like the recent pedophilia scandals involving Penn State University and the Roman Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts cases involve trusted members of the community who had access to children they were supposed to mentor and to protect, but who instead exploited that access to groom and to molest the most vulnerable of them.
Attorney Paul Mones, whose Oregon law firm was involved in the lawsuit against the Boy Scouts and which led to the files’ disclosure, told a news conference on Thursday that they symbolize “the anguish of thousands of Scouts.” The Oregon Supreme Court ordered the release of the documents.
At the news conference 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.
In a statement Thursday, Boy Scouts National President Wayne Perry apologized for the abuse and the failure to protect children.
“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,” the statement said. “Where those involved in scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families.”
Based in Irving, Texas, the century-old Boy Scouts of America is one of the nation’s largest volunteer organizations, with more than 100 million youth participants and 33 million adult Scouts leaders. Those few Scouts, around 2 percent, who attain the highest rank of Eagle Scout comprise an elite group that includes members of Congress, governors, astronauts, professional athletes, business executives and film directors.
Trustworthiness is one of the 12 points of the Scout Law. But experts said that creates an opportunity for predators because few people would look for them in a respected, longstanding institution like the Boy Scouts.
Child protection experts say that the efforts in recent years by the Boy Scouts to better track, report and train youth leaders, and its humility in admitting failure, are all laudable steps, but that much more is needed by an organization that built its name and reputation on trust.
“It steps in the right direction,” said Christopher Anderson, the executive director of Male Survivor, a nonprofit organization for victims of sexual abuse. “The next step is that the Boy Scouts should provide support and help for all those victims and survivors who have been harmed.”
Said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests: “As a society, we’ve just got to somehow get over this notion that some men, some women, some institutions, are 100 percent pristine and trustworthy. We’ve got to look at actual behavior, not reputation.”
As in other recent scandals, the Boy Scouts files could produce criminal trials and years of litigation, as well as potentially millions of dollars in damages.
In the Penn State case, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky abused young boys he met through his youth charity. Sandusky, who was convicted in June on 45 counts of child sex abuse and sentenced this month to a minimum of 30 years in prison, also was a trusted figure.
It took a three-year state grand jury investigation to bring Sandusky’s activities, and the university’s cover-up, to light.
In the scandal that has engulfed the Roman Catholic Church, nearly 11,000 people accused American priests of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002, and the church has faced legal settlements of more than $2 billion. The church’s legal and financial troubles are far from over, and recently, the scandal has spread to congregations in Europe.
Jennifer Freyd, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon and an expert on institutional betrayal, said: “The dynamics that can cause institutions to turn a blind eye are powerful dynamics that will show up over and over. Everybody can make a mistake. In the end, it’s the cover-up that will do you in.”
Herman, the Miami lawyer, said that in the cases he is working on, the victims are usually “groomed” by the predator. The relationship “doesn’t start off with sex,” Herman said. “The victim is compliant, not consenting. Obviously a 14-year-old can’t consent to sex. They are so confused and guilty, they don’t feel like a victim, not until their abuser is named that they say, ‘Oh, my God, I was a victim,’ ” Herman said.
Herman added that he believes the Boy Scouts ignored “red flags” about the molesters.
Information from The New York Times and The Associated Press was used.