Boy Scouts Abuse Database Includes Dozens of Cases in Bay Area

On Thursday the law firm O’Donnell, Clark & Crew released a database of what it says is more than 14,500 pages “of previously confidential documents from the Boy Scouts of America’s so called ‘Perversion Files,’ a set of files maintained by the Scouts since the 1920s that detail individual incidents of alleged sexual abuse within Scouting.” The documents released cover the period 1965-1985.

The Bay Area News Group has put the files into a database. You can search for individuals who were alleged to have abused scouts by  name or look for those who appear in the database by city or state. The database will then kick out individual files on the related incidents.

O’Donnell, Clark & Crew have also put up an alphabetical list of those individuals suspected of abuse nationwide.

The Oregon Supreme Court ordered the public release of the files as a result of a successful 2010 lawsuit in which the Scouts were ordered to pay nearly $20 million in punitive damages. At that time, a Multnomah County, Oregon jury awarded $1.4 million to plaintiff Kerry Lewis, sexually abused as a 12-year-old by an assistant troop leader. The jury then found the scouts liable for $18.5 million in punitive damages. More from O’Donnell, Clark & Crew on the release of the files:

The files…contain detailed reports of alleged abuse by more than 1,200 different Scoutmasters and other adult volunteers from the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) between 1965 and 1985, as well as the BSA’s response to the allegations.

Officially called the Boy Scouts Ineligible Volunteer Files, but commonly known as the Perversion Files, the BSA established the national files and database to identify and track volunteers and Scout leaders who were deemed by the organization to be ineligible to participate in Scouting because of accusations of abuse. As the files reveal, in the many of cases [sic], the BSA did not share information it gathered about abuse with law enforcement. In fact in a number of cases, abusers were able to relocate, join different Scouting groups and continue abusing children.

The AP reports that in “more than a third [of the cases] according to the Scouts’ own count – police weren’t told about the reports of abuse. And even when they were, sometimes local law enforcement still did nothing, seeking to protect the name of Scouting over their victims.”

(O’Donnell, Clark & Crew also says the files are just the ” tip of the iceberg.”)

The law firm also issued an important disclaimer about the database: many of these files only document allegations that have not been proven in a court of law.

The information in the IV ["Ineligible Volunteer"] files concerns allegations of child sexual abuse. In a number of the cases, the allegations were later substantiated by court proceedings. However, in a great many cases no such substantiation ever occurred. ..

In fact, we are in no position to verify or attest to the truth of these allegations as they were compiled by the Boy Scouts of America. The incidents reported in these documents attest to notice of potential child abuse given to the Boy Scouts of America and its affiliates and their response to that notice.”

The LA Times has also put together what it’s calling “a larger and slightly more recent batch of files —1,900 cases opened on suspected child abusers from 1970 to 1991.” The Times writes:

In hundreds of cases, the newspaper found, the Scouts failed to report abuse to authorities and many times covered up allegations to protect the organization’s reputation. The Times also found that dozens of men who were expelled on suspicion of sexual abuse managed to reenter the organization only to face new allegations.

Locally, the San Francisco Chronicle reports “at least two dozen of those attacks [happened] in the Bay Area.

In the Bay Area, the documented incidents ranged from a scoutmaster in Sunnyvale coming on to a boy during a camping trip to an assistant scoutmaster in Fairfield molesting 13 boys during visits to his home or the troop’s meeting place.

“Today is a very important day, a good day,” said John Buckland, who was one of the 13 boys abused in Fairfield. “For nearly 30 years they had me and tons of us locked away in a little box somewhere with dust on the lid, but today with the release of all these papers we get to have our say.”

Buckland, now 42 and living in West Virginia, was 14 in 1984 when he belonged to a troop at Travis Air Force Base. His case came to light when Air Force authorities came to his home one night and showed his parents lewd photos of him and the 12 other victims that had been taken by their abuser.

The assistant scoutmaster, then-Sgt. Curtis Knarich, 24 at the time, was court-martialed for the molestations and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. But Buckland said he still hurts knowing the Boy Scouts never contacted him to apologize.

“Don’t get me wrong – Scouting itself is a great concept,” he said. “But if you’re going to have a great concept, you have to have great protections in place.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports the following:

Boy Scout officials and parents in Sonoma County expressed dismay Thursday at new documents that revealed decades of sexual abuse, but expressed confidence that changes within the organization have made it a safe place for children.

The Press Democrat article also details some of the rules the Scouts have put in place to help prevent abuse.

KQED’s Aarti Shahani today talked with Anthony DeMarco, a Pasadena attorney representing four brothers whose San Jose Scout leader allegedly molested them back in the 1980s.

The brothers, now in their 40s and 50s, opened up about the abuse only after the perpetrator happened to move into their neighborhood.

“When they’re abused as children they do their very best to try to bury it,” said DeMarco. “And when this man comes into their community, now all of a sudden it’s right in front of them again. But now they have children of their own, families that they’re around. And their able to look at what happened to them through an adult set of eyes and understanding that it wasn’t their fault.”

A San Jose appeals court dismissed the case, citing California’s statute of limitations.

So what do the Boy Scouts of America have to say about all this? Here’s the statement from the organization’s president, Wayne Perry:

There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong. Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest apologies to victims and their families.

While it is difficult to understand or explain individuals’ actions from many decades ago, today Scouting is a leader among youth serving organizations in preventing child abuse. The BSA requires background checks, comprehensive training programs for volunteers, staff, youth and parents and mandates reporting of even suspected abuse. We have continuously enhanced our multi-tiered policies and procedures to ensure we are in line with and, where possible, ahead of society’s knowledge of abuse and best practices for prevention. BSA’s standards and relentless focus on youth protection have been recognized and praised by experts in child protection – including Victor Vieth, a former prosecutor who heads the National Child Protection Training Center.

Experts have found that the BSA’s system of Ineligible Volunteer Files functions well to help protect Scouts by denying entry to dangerous individuals, and Scouting believes that they play an important role in our comprehensive youth protection system.

The Scouts also say that “today, any adult who wants to join Scouting must pass a criminal background check” and that “scouting policies require prompt reporting of any inappropriate conduct.”

A McClatchy Newspapers piece today likens the Boy Scouts’ handling of these allegations to the abuse scandals at Penn State and the Catholic Church.

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Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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