The ignominious history of sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts of America — and the attempts over the years by the organization’s executives to cover it up — have been sadly detailed in court cases and, most recently, in an investigation by the Los Angeles Times. But the most exhaustive chronicles of that abuse reside within the Scouts itself, which a century ago began keeping secret “Ineligible Volunteer” files on men accused of sexual abuse or other transgressions.
The files were — and still are — intended as a confidential, internal registry of cases of alleged or confirmed abuse in which volunteers were expelled from the organization and were not to be reinstated. In fact, suspected sex offenders sometimes did turn up at other troops and abused again. And in hundreds of cases of alleged molestation, Scouting officials never notified authorities, instead quietly banishing offenders, according to The Times’ review of 1,600 files dating from 1970 to 1991.
Recently, the Scouts organization has tightened its regulations for protecting youths. Since 2010, it has required “mandatory reporting” to law enforcement by the person who suspects or sees abuse of a Scout as well as by the Scouting official informed of it. All volunteers must submit to a criminal background check. The organization also requires two adults at every Scouting activity.
In the coming days, volumes of Ineligible Volunteer files dating from 1965 to 1985, which were evidence in a landmark 2010 Oregon civil court case on sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts, will be released to the public, with names of victims and reporters of abuse redacted. The Scouts initially fought the disclosure of the files, arguing that it would compromise the privacy of victims. Since the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the files be made public, the organization has issued an apology for its handling of some of the allegations in them. And it has released a report by a University of Virginia professor and clinical social worker, Janet Warren, whom the organization hired to analyze the data for the court case.
The organization has also announced that it will commission an analysis of the files from 1985 to the present day, and notify law enforcement of any allegations that have not already been disclosed.
The organization’s recent steps to lay bare past abuses have been smart — if late and generally prompted by court action.
But if, as a spokesman said, it intends to hire the same professor who reviewed the earlier files, that is a mistake. Warren functioned as an expert witness who testified on behalf of the Scouts at the Oregon trial (which it lost) and provoked some criticism for her findings that youths were statistically safer in the Boy Scouts than in society at large, based on government studies of reported abuse.
This is not about Warren’s respected academic credentials. The Scouts organization simply needs to find a new, independent, well-regarded consultant — one who was not involved in its previous court battles and has not played a role in defending it — to conduct this review of the latest batch of secret files. Commissioning a truly independent review is one of the best things the Scouts can do to prove that it is no longer the organization that dealt with sexual abuse so inadequately for so many years.