The Oregon Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the unprecedented public release of more than 1,200 confidential files that detail sexual abuse of Boy Scouts by their troop leaders and others within scouting over a 20-year span beginning in 1965.
The documents, also known as the “Ineligible Volunteer” or “perversion” files, are a subset of records that have been kept under lock and key by the Boys Scouts of America since the 1920s.
The 20,000 pages ordered unsealed Thursday had been introduced as evidence in a landmark Oregon lawsuit in 2010. A jury awarded a record $18.5 million to a man who was molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the early 1980s, ruling that the Scouts failed to protect him.
Afterward, the Boy Scouts of America petitioned the trial court to keep the files closed, a move opposed by media outlets seeking their full disclosure. The dispute wound up before the state Supreme Court, which on Thursday sided with the Oregonian newspaper, the Associated Press, the New York Times, Oregon Public Broadcasting and other outlets.
The court ordered the files be made public after the names of victims and others who reported sexual abuse are redacted. It was not immediately known how long that process would take.
Boy Scouts of America said in a prepared statement Thursday that it respects the court’s decision, but even with redactions, the release of the files may have a chilling effect on the reporting of abuse.
“The confidentiality of the files encourages prompt reporting of questionable behavior, removes the fear of retribution, and ensures victims and their families have the privacy they deserve,” spokesman Deron Smith said.
A coalition of victims' rights and child advocacy groups supported opening the files, arguing that it would “end the Boy Scouts' ability to deny its child abuse problem” and encourage others who were molested to come forward.
Paul Mones, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers in the 2010 case, agreed, saying the vast majority of boys molested in scouting have never reported the abuse. Although the organization has made “great strides” in protecting scouts in recent years, he said, its history of widespread sexual abuse should not be buried.
“These kids were raped, these kids were sodomized,” he said. “Many of them were molested for months and years. Many had devastating physical injuries and they remained silent. These files represent opening a window on that tragic period of time.”