A law firm that represented a former Boy Scout who had been the victim of child sexual abuse on Thursday released a large online volume containing more than 1,200 fileson Scoutmasters and other volunteers accused of pedophilia or sexual abuse. The files span some 20 years, from 1965 to 1985, and are part of a record compiled by the Boy Scouts of America with the intention of keeping abusers out of scouting and away from vulnerable youth. The full record is believed to date back as far as the mid-1920s and may involve as many as 100,000 children.
The so-called “Perversion Files” were made public by a Portland, Ore. law firm that represented Kerry Lewis, who was the victim of abuse by an ex-assistant Scoutmaster in 1984. They had been kept secret under a protective order until Lewis’ 2010 lawsuit against the Boy Scouts, in which Multnomah County Judge John Wittmayer ordered the documents released. He restricted access to the files to just the attorneys for both the plaintiff and the defendant, but that order was overturned earlier this year. Also as part of the suit, Lewis was awarded $18.5 million in punitive damages, to be paid by the Boy Scouts.
His abuser, Temur Dykes, had admitted to a Mormon church leader in 1983, months before he abused Lewis, that he had molested 17 Scouts in his church-sponsored troop during the early 1980s. But he continued to interact with Scouts. He admitted in a deposition that he had abused Lewis in 1984. On three different occasions he was convicted on child sexual abuse charges: in 1983 and 1985 of sodomy, and in 1994 of sex abuse. On the last conviction he was sentenced to 18 years in prison but was released in 2005. He is now registered as a sex offender in Oregon and remains in post-incarceration supervision until 2013.
In June, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered that the 14,500-page set of files be disclosed; the law firm of O’Donnell, Clark & Crew posted the documents on their website on Thursday. The documents name and describe the alleged perpetrators of the abuse, as well as the supposed acts and behavior which the BSA troop leaders deemed eligible for ejection from their ranks. Each file contains a gamut of newspaper articles and correspondence between the alleged abusers and the Scoutmasters related to the particular case, though the names and contact information of the victims have been redacted.
Attorney Kelly Clark, the lead counsel in the Lewis suit, said that in virtually all the states in which the incidents took place, the criminal statute of limitations on the alleged crimes has long expired and most states’ statutes that would apply to lawsuits have expired as well. “Most of the people in these files will never see legal justice,” he told TIME.
Clark has blasted the Scouts, accusing the organization of trying to keep the files secret in an attempt to hide crimes committed by their Scoutmasters and volunteers from law enforcement, abuse victims and parents. “To the extent that the file system was intended to keep the bad guys out it often worked as it should,” Clark said. “But there’s a problem: if you keep this system for decades and decades and the number of abuse cases are the same or worse, you’d have to say ‘Our program is attracting pedophiles; how can we make this better?'”
The Scouts, for their part, acknowledge that they have failed at times to protect young boys from pedophiles, but they argue that there are systems in place to keep youths from harm in the future. The organization says they have kept the records released today — what they call “Ineligible Volunteer” files — for more than 80 years as a way to make sure potential undesirables do not get into Scouting. “Essentially, the files are a list of people who do not meet the BSA’s membership standards because of known or suspected abuse or other inappropriate conduct either inside or outside of Scouting,” according to a statement.
They cite a study they commissioned on the Ineligible Volunteer files to be completed by University of Virginia psychiatry professor Janet Warren, which found that there were failures on the part of the Scouts to protect boys from sexual predators, but that the methods they have implemented have worked overall. They say that law enforcement had been informed about the majority of the information in the files and have pledged to do the same for information in files dated from 1985 to the present.
“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,” Wayne Perry, the Boy Scouts’ national president said in a statement provided to TIME. “We have continuously enhanced our multi-tiered policies and procedures to ensure we are in line with and, where possible, ahead of society’s knowledge of abuse and best practices for prevention.”
BSA officials insist that the perversion files have always been public and have been reported by the media going as far back as 1935, have been the subject of books and are known to millions of volunteers in Scouting because of a requirement that they be cross-checked against the lengthy list of alleged perpetrators. They did, however, issue an apology to the victims of abuse.
“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,” the statement said.
But Clark says the Scouts have continually fought to keep the files secret and his firm is litigating dozens of cases around the country relating to sexual abuse of Boy Scouts. He said small troops did not know what BSA executives and local Boy Scout councils knew. “Local council executives knew about the secret files and how to open them, but that knowledge never went to the local community troops,” Clark says. “Den moms and den dads were completely blind and kept in the the dark.”