Boy Scout files show decades of child sex abuseby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Boy Scouts of America banned at least 22 adult Minnesotans from the Scouts from 1965 to 1985 because of alleged sexual contact with children or other inappropriate conduct, according to thousands of pages of internal records released today in response to a court order.
In at least four of the Minnesota cases, there is no indication Boy Scouts officials reported allegations of child sexual abuse to police.
The documents are part of more than 1,200 previously-confidential files released by an Oregon-based law firm representing victims of sexual abuse. The names of the victims have been redacted. The files were submitted as evidence in a lawsuit filed against the Boy Scouts of America in Oregon in 2010. The suit resulted in a jury awarding $20 million to a man who was sexually abused by an assistant Scoutmaster in the early 1980s, according to the Los Angeles Times.
For decades, the Boy Scouts maintained files on adult Scouts suspected of sex crimes against children. The files include newspaper clippings, handwritten letters from parents of alleged victims, internal paperwork, and photographs of some former Scouts volunteers.
The Boy Scouts of America argues the records helped protect children from suspected pedophiles. In a statement released today, the organization called the files "a key method used to keep Scouts safe."
However, in about one-third of the 1,247 cases spanning two decades, the Boy Scouts did not report allegations of sexual abuse to police, according to the group's statement.
John Andrews, executive director of the Northern Star Council of Boy Scouts in Minnesota, said Scouts today are taught to recognize abuse and report it. However, he acknowledged the files show the group did not always report sexual abuse allegations.
"Even if it was decades ago, and we have stronger systems now, you still feel responsibility," he said. "The idea that our organization might have made mistakes or not been as good as keeping children safe at one time, as we believe and hope we are now, it's crushing."
'THE SECRETS ARE OUT'
The files provide a glimpse inside the Boy Scouts organization as it struggled to determine how to address allegations of sexual abuse at a time when such allegations were rarely reported. Defense attorney Kelly Clark, whose law firm released the files, said the files are valuable to the public's understanding of how the Boy Scouts responded to allegations regarding its members.
"Child abuse thrives in secrecy, and secrecy is where it breeds," Clark said at a news conference. "And the secrets are out."
The Los Angeles Times newspaper, which was one of the first media outlets to report on the Scouts files, has compiled its own list of nearly 5,000 files from 1947 to January 2005. The newspaper's database lists 84 files from Minnesota, including some that overlap with the files released by the law firm today.
News organizations, including the Oregonian newspaper, the Associated Press, the New York Times, Oregon Public Broadcasting, secured the release of the 1965 to 1985 files through an order by the Oregon Supreme Court over the objection of the Boy Scouts of America.
The release of the documents was widely anticipated by attorneys, reporters and victims, and within a few minutes, the law firm's website stopped responding. MPR News obtained 11 of the 22 Minnesota files before the website malfunctioned.
FILES DETAIL CRIMINAL CHARGES
Six of the 11 files include information about criminal charges filed against adult Scouts for sex crimes involving children, some of whom were also Scouts. The organization compiled the information from newspaper articles and reports from fellow Scouts. The files were used to determine when a Scout should be banned and to ensure that banned adults could not rejoin the group.
Some of the letters exchanged by Boy Scouts officials regarding criminal sexual offenses strike an odd tone. One memo about a 51-year-old man charged with taking pornographic photos of children is written on Donald Duck letterhead.
In another case, a Scouts executive writes to tell a colleague that a Minnesota man should not be allowed in the organization because he "was found guilty in a case which involved a Boy Scout." The executive recommends the Scouts open a file on the case. He then abruptly shifts topics.
"It's a beautiful day in Heidelberg and I can see the castle on the hill from my office window," he wrote. "The fruit trees are blooming, and I am looking forward to driving to Frankfurt this afternoon."
NO APPARENT REPORTING TO POLICE IN 4 CASES
The four files that do not appear to have been reported to police include a file for a 31-year-old Minneapolis man who allegedly sexually abused several underage Scouts. The man resigned from his position as district Scout executive in 1961 after the allegations surfaced.
One file includes a written confession by a 32-year-old Minneapolis Scoutmaster. In a letter dated June 1976, the man wrote, "I was involved sexually with two boys during recent Scouting events."
The letter continues, "I am terminating my service as Scoutmaster as of this moment. I fully understand that I will no longer be allowed to work, in any way or position, for any Scouting unit, with any boys, as Scouts, or any position in the movement of the Boy Scouts of America."
The man's file includes a separate letter from an alleged victim, who wrote that the man, "invited me to camp alone with him twice and that he was sexually involved with me both times." The letter was later altered to say that the abuse only happened once.
A second alleged victim declined to provide a similar statement to the Boy Scouts. "The father was concerned that it might become a police case and he did not want his son involved," a Boy Scouts executive wrote in a June 9, 1966 letter to the director of the Boy Scouts Registration Service.
Another file includes a handwritten letter from a St Paul mother alleging that her son was molested by an assistant Scoutmaster at camp. "My son was terrified and speechless," she wrote in a letter dated July 12, 1972. Scouts officials banned the man from the organization. There is no indication in the file that the Boy Scouts reported the allegation to police.
At times, the group's method of tracking former Scouts prevented alleged perpetrators from joining the Scouts in another state.
One of the Minnesota files recounts how a 24-year-old man was rejected from joining the Scouts in New York in 1963 because of a record of alleged molestation of boys in Moorhead. The file includes letters between Boy Scouts officials in New York and Minnesota.
A Scouts executive from the Red River Valley Council wrote, "Although he was caught recently there is rather strong indication that he had been molesting boys for about as long as he had been in town which is about two years."
DEFENSE ATTORNEYS AND BOY SCOUTS OFFICIALS RESPOND
Defense attorneys say the files could lead to more lawsuits from victims of sexual assault and provide information for ongoing cases.
Jared Shepard, an attorney with the St-Paul based law firm Jeff Anderson and Associates, which has represented sexual assault victims suing the Vatican and private schools, said the firm is already representing several Minnesotans who allege abuse by an adult member of the Boy Scouts.
Shepard said he is reviewing the files released today to see if they name any of the suspects in his clients' cases.
"We'll also look for the historical knowledge the Scouts had about the presence of the problem of sexual abuse," he said.
The Boy Scouts of America argues the files show the organization was committed to protecting children decades before computerized records were available. The files were kept confidential, Scouts officials have said, to encourage people to report abuse.
Andrews, of the Northern Star Council of Boy Scouts, said the organization now runs criminal background checks on all adult volunteers. He said the Scouts' current policies prevent perpetrators from volunteering and make the Scouts one of the safest activities for children.
The files are posted online here.
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- Morning Edition, 10/19/2012, 7:24 a.m.