New York: The Boy Scouts have kept files going back decades showing that nearly 8,000 volunteers have been excluded from the organization because they had been accused of sexually abusing children, according to a review by an expert on child sexual abuse.
The expert, Janet Warren, a professor at the University of Virginia, revealed the scope of the reported abuse when she testified as an expert witness in a trial involving allegations of child sexual abuse at a children's theater in Minneapolis.
Her findings were described Tuesday by a lawyer, Jeff Anderson, who has represented sexual abuse victims in cases against organizations like the Boy Scouts and the Roman Catholic Church.
Warren said during her testimony that she had been hired by the Boy Scouts and for five years reviewed data known as the "perversion files'' that contained information on volunteers whose involvement in the group had been ended "because of reasonable allegations of child sexual abuse."
The Boy Scouts have kept such files since just after World War I. She reviewed 72 years' worth of documents, from 1944 to 2016, and said they contained the names of 7,819 "perpetrators." She said there had been 12,254 victims in that time.
The issue of sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts received widespread attention several years ago, and much of the disclosures Tuesday were not entirely new. But Warren appeared to have made more headway in analyzing the Scouts' files.
Her testimony went largely unnoticed until Anderson, whose firm had brought the case against the children's theater, discussed Warren's findings at a news conference in Manhattan. Anderson did not say why he had released the list at this time, but he noted that New York state recently passed a law making it easier for victims to sue their abusers.
A portion of the Boy Scout files had already been made public in 2012 as a result of a trial in Oregon involving sexual abuse allegations against a Scout leader.
Anderson provided a list of 130 names, gathered from publicly available documents, of scout leaders in New York state who he said had been accused of sexual misconduct. It is unclear whether the allegations against those people have been substantiated. His list did not indicate whether any of the 130 people had been criminally charged with abuse.
The Boy Scouts said in a statement Tuesday that every account of suspected abuse has been reported to law enforcement agencies. That includes accounts in the files in which it was not clear whether information had been turned over to the appropriate authorities.
"We care deeply about all victims of child abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in scouting," the Boy Scouts said in a statement. "Nothing is more important than the safety and protection of children in scouting, and we are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to abuse innocent children.
"At no time have we ever knowingly allowed a perpetrator to work with youth," the statement said.
The statement also said that the Boy Scouts paid for "unlimited counseling" for victims by providers of their choosing, and provided a toll-free number that victims can call.
About 2.2 million children and nearly 1 million volunteers are members of the Boy Scouts, according to the organization.
Protecting the accused
News outlets that reviewed the files released in 2012, including The Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press, said they indicated that some local prosecutors and police officials had protected scouting volunteers accused of abuse, sometimes out of concern that negative publicity would hurt Scouting.
But the same files also contained unsubstantiated allegations, which differentiates this situation from what has occurred with the Roman Catholic Church.
In recent months, following a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that said bishops and other Roman Catholic leaders had covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests, a number of bishops across the country have released the names of priests in their dioceses who they said have been credibly accused of abuse. That was a step that abuse victims and their advocates had long sought.
Anderson said Tuesday that the Boy Scouts "have never actually released these names in any form that can be known to the public."
"They may have removed them from Scouting," he said. "They may have kept them in their perversion file, but they never alerted the community."
Opportunities for justice
Anderson's appearance came two months after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that gave sex abuse victims new opportunities for justice.
Under the new law in New York, prosecutors can bring criminal charges until a victim turned 28. New York's age limit had been among the most restrictive in the nation: Criminal or civil charges had to be filed before the victim's 23rd birthday. As for civil cases, victims can now sue abusers, or the institutions that enabled them, until they are 55.
The bill also opened a one-year "look-back window" during which victims can pursue civil cases, no matter how long ago the abuse took place.
Victims and their lawyers say that the Boy Scout files, which are kept at the Scouts' national office in Texas, hid the problem and left young scouts at risk.
For several years in the early 2000s, the Boy Scouts fought the release of some of the files in the case in Oregon, where in 2010 a jury found the Scouts liable for $18.5 million in punitive damages. That award came in a case brought by a former scout who was sexually abused at age 12 by an assistant troop leader; it was by far the largest ever against the Scouts in a jury trial.
The judge allowed only the judge and lawyers to see some of the files during the trial, but in 2012, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the records made public. An article in The New York Times said the files contained accusations against 1,247 scout leaders from 1965 to 1985.
The release of those files came 10 years after a former Boy Scout troop leader in New York pleaded guilty to multiple counts of sodomy. The man, Jerrold Schwartz, acknowledged that he had molested a boy in his troop on a regular basis. He was sentenced to up to eight years in prison; he was released in 2008 after serving five years and four months.