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Boy Scouts Forced To Show Sex Abuse Allegations


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Records of more than 1,200 Boy Scout leaders accused of child molestation from the mid-1960s to the mid-'80s were made public today. The release also included letters showing the Boy Scouts tried to keep cases quiet. The Oregon Supreme Court allowed the release of the Scouts' so-called perversion files over protests from the organization, which had wanted to keep them confidential. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: The Boy Scouts say these files were their blacklist, their way of keeping accused child abusers from getting near scouts. But others see the collection of letters and internal memos as a disturbing display of widespread abuse in an organization all too willing to let slide or hush it up.

HELEN CALDWELL: I become speechless. I'm so full of rage about it even to this point. I mean, when does it end?

SMITH: Helen Caldwell's son sued the Boy Scouts for alleged abuse, winning some 18 million a few years ago and triggering the publication of these files. The documents show scores of accused Scout volunteers allowed to quietly resign without any report to police or parents and others allowed to keep working. For example, when a Scoutmaster slept nude with boys and showed them pornography, it was deemed, quote, "poor judgment," but not enough to kick him out. As troubling as she finds the files, Caldwell says she's more distressed by what's not included, for example, no file on the Scout leader accused of sexually abusing her son even though he'd admitted to molesting before.

CALDWELL: In all honesty, where there's smoke, there's fire. And I wish I'd seen the smoke, but it was hidden.

SMITH: The perversion files, as the Scouts used to call them before changing the name to ineligible volunteer files, will now be posted online minus accusers' names on the website of Attorney Kelly Clark.

KELLY CLARK: The secrets are out. Child abuse thrives in secrecy, and secret systems are where it breeds. And these secrets are out.

SMITH: The release may prompt a wave of new claims against the Scouts and may also help heal old wounds.

JOHN ANDERSON: It shows people they're not alone. You know, like I always thought, you know this was unique to me. You know, how could I be so stupid and let something like this happen to me?

SMITH: John Anderson says he was also abused by a troop leader who was allowed to keep working despite prior accusations. That man was later convicted of molesting others. Anderson hopes the files will help expose child molester's MO. In retrospect, he says it's clear how his Scout leader started grooming him from day one.

ANDERSON: You know, he'd talk to you about sex and things, which, you know, a lot of times, it's, you know, just between your buddies and stuff. So he kind of grooms you into becoming a buddy with him and, you know, he was definitely somebody that, you know, revered.

SMITH: Anderson says everything happened gradually on camping trips, hikes and in the troop leader's apartment.

ANDERSON: He just would methodically, you know, push the boundaries and then he'd keep pushing them more. One of the things he'd always say is, well, you know, if it feels good, then we should do it.

SMITH: The Boy Scouts files also show efforts from the top to keep incidents under wraps, as one letter explains, because of the embarrassment if the wrong people read it. As another letter puts it: f it don't stink, don't stir it.

WAYNE PERRY: As we review the files, we see that we did fall short, and we're profoundly sorry.

SMITH: Boy Scouts national president Wayne Perry says the organization currently mandates reporting of even suspicions of abuse and has adopted what he calls the current gold standard of policies on screening leaders and protecting boys.

PERRY: You know, society has changed and gotten smarter on this issue, and thank goodness we have.

SMITH: While the system was far from perfect, Perry says, in the context of that era, Scouts were doing more than most by even trying to keep out child abusers, a point reiterated by University of Virginia Professor Janet Warren, who was paid by the Scouts to review the files.

JANET WARREN: I just see it being such a good faith effort. They were like 80 years ahead of their time. You know, I don't see bad intent.

SMITH: Even critics can see that the files often did succeed in keeping child molesters from slipping back into the Scouts. And Warren says, in most cases, the Scouts didn't report to police because accusations were already public. The Boy Scouts are still fighting to keep another batch of more recent files confidential. As Scouts president Wayne Perry puts it, confidentiality is key to getting people to report and stopping offenders early.

PERRY: Remember, we're trying to have a good trip wire here. So if we have any suspicion, you know, we don't need a standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt. We just say, oh, something's weird here, something's wrong. You're gone. We're not afraid to make the determination on less than perfect information.

SMITH: Indeed, attorneys releasing the files today concede they may well include some Boy Scout leaders who were wrongly accused, as well as Scoutmasters banned, for example, because they were believed to be gay. Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.

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