Nearly 15,000 pages of Boy Scout files were released last week documenting 1,247 scout masters that had sexually molested boy scouts between 1965 and 1985. The official files of the Boy Scouts of America show that the organization made efforts to keep the abuse secret and failed to make reports to law enforcement as is required by law in most states. These files were labeled “ineligible volunteer files” but were informally referred to as “perversion” files.
Top officials at the Boy Scouts attempted to quietly remove pedophile scout masters but were not always successful in keeping the child molesters from returning to other scout troops. In contrast, the Roman Catholic Church rarely removed priests usually moving them to other churches but also keeping the abuse secret.
The records ordered released by the Oregon Supreme Court did not include records after 1985. That is because the records ordered produced in the lawsuit and jury trial in the cases of six scouts did not involve later records. Experience has shown that public disclosure is the only way to truly protect children and hold child molesters accountable. I believe that the records from 1985 up to date should be released and made public as well. Attorneys Kelly Clark and Paul Mones, the Oregon lawyers who brought the lawsuit, have called for the United States Congress to audit the Boy Scouts. Congress has authority to do this because the Boy Scouts are a congressionally chartered organization.
The records released show that the sexually abuse of boy scouts occurred nationwide. These ineligible volunteer files had been kept since the 1920s.
My law firm, Saunders & Walker, filed a lawsuit in Saint Petersburg, Florida against the boy scouts on behalf of some boys who were abused by Scout master Steven Leroy Greenleaf in Clearwater and New Port Richey, Florida in 2005. Scout master Greenleaf was criminally prosecuted, convicted, and sent to Florida State Prison for child abuse in 2007.
Lawsuits against the Boy Scouts are complicated because the scout masters are not hired by the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts of America set up regional councils which provide direction to local councils. The local troops are usually sponsored by a church or community group. The local troop is then chartered by the Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America. The national Boy Scouts organization has defended itself against lawsuits by denying that it has no direct authority or supervision of the individual scout masters. The national BSA does have rules such as the "two deep rule" that is intended to prevent adult scout masters from being alone with boy scouts.The complexity of this structure make these cases legally challenging if an attorney is not familiar with the organizational structure of the Boy Scout system.
Most boys who were abused by scout leaders or scout masters were intimated or threatened to keep the abuse secret and have never told anyone. So the Scout files are really just the tip of the iceberg. They would only contain a small percentage of the sex abuse that actually occurred over the years.
I expect that many former boy scouts who were abused will now have the courage to come forward and tell their story and demand accountability and justice. For many survivors of sex abuse coming forward and holding the abusive scout master and the organization responsible is one of the important steps to emotional recovery. If it had not been for the courage of the six scouts who came forward in Oregon and told their story in court as part of their lawsuit these documents would still be secret.
Admitted to both the California State Bar and the Florida State Bar, Joseph Saunders has also practiced in the United States District Court and the United States Court of Appeals. His philosophy is to provide aggressive, quality representation and seek fair compensation for individuals and their families who have suffered injury or death at the hands of insurance companies, large corporations, medical providers or governmental entities.