For nearly a century, the Boy Scouts of America has relied on a confidential blacklist known as the “perversion files” as a crucial line of defense against sexual predators.
Scouting officials say they’ve used the files to prevent hundreds of men who had been expelled for alleged sexual abuse from returning to the ranks. They’ve fought hard in court to keep the records from public view, saying confidentiality was needed to protect victims, witnesses and anyone falsely accused.
“It is a fact that Scouts are safer because the barrier created by these files is real,” Scouts Chief Executive Robert Mazzuca said in video posted on the organization’s website in June.
That barrier, however, has been breached repeatedly.
A Los Angeles Times review of more than 1,200 files dating from 1970 to 1991 found more than 125 cases across the country in which men allegedly continued to molest Scouts after the organization was first presented with detailed allegations of abusive behavior.
Get this part. It’s exactly the same thing the Roman Catholic Church of the era did:
A troop committee including parents and a psychiatrist concluded unanimously that the boy’s story was true and discovered that Field had a history of inappropriate behavior — including making Scouts run around naked after games of strip poker, according to the file.
But no one called police. Instead, a regional Scout leader followed what was then standard procedure: He filled out a biographical form on Field and assembled the evidence for national headquarters, which opened a confidential file and deleted Field’s name from the membership rolls.
From that point forward, any time Field tried to register as a Scouting volunteer, his name was supposed to be checked against a national list of those in the confidential files. Scouting officials assured the regional Scout leader that Field would never participate in Scouting again.
But he did. He was involved with several Southern California troops over the next 17 years, according to his file.
Contacted recently by The Times, Field explained that after he failed a lie detector test required by the Santa Monica troop committee, he was encouraged to transfer to another troop in the city, where he served as scoutmaster for four years.
They pushed him around. He was Somebody Else’s Problem. And read on in the story to learn of molesters given second chances by the Scouts, and of written proof that the BSA organized its files in an attempt to make sure no court would be able to see what they knew about these sex criminals in their ranks. It’s all here.
Keep in mind that the incidents in the files the LATimes examined only cover from 1970 to 1991, and that the Scouts have gotten tougher on abusers within since that time. Still, to let you know how crazy people were then, look at this:
Richard Stenger, the head of a unit of the Sea Scouts — part of the Boy Scouts — was charged in 1971 with tying up and fondling three boys. Police found bondage equipment and books on pedophilia in his house.
He was convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and a judge sentenced him to four years’ probation, his file shows. The Scouts decided to suspend him during that period. But when the court-ordered probation ended, a local Scout executive and several parents successfully requested that the national office lift the suspension.
“I feel quite confident that no further problems will arise,” wrote the local Scout executive, whose name is blacked out in the heavily redacted file.
A local Scout executive and several parents! Several. Parents. And do you know what happened after that? Read on:
Fourteen years later, in 1989, a parent notified the Boy Scouts that the 320-pound Stenger had padlocked her 11-year-old Scout in a harness and watched him dangle for 15 minutes during a boating trip, according to Stenger’s file. Scouts notified police, who recovered from Stenger’s home dozens of restraints and hundreds of images of children in bondage, including one of a blindfolded 6-year-old tied to a bed.
Of course half the combox commenters here will cite all this as an example of why President Obama is right, and the BSA should abandon its policy of excluding gays as members and leaders. They’re wrong, but the Scouts’ history on the abuse question sure does make it hard, as a PR matter, to defend them.