File photo of tents at a Boy Scouts camp (Thinkstock)
Under mounting pressure to explain the past handling of sex abuse allegations, the Boy Scouts of America will now double-check 50 years of secret member records to see if they missed anything.
"The first thing is that we make sure anything in those files that law enforcement needs to know, we tell them," Scouts spokesman Deron Smith told the Dallas Morning News.
The records are part of the Scouts' "ineligible volunteer" files, a confidential list kept on alleged molesters within their ranks since 1919. The Scouts have long maintained the files were kept private to protect victims, encourage prompt reporting of questionable behavior and keep unwanted leaders out.
The Scouts' decision to analyze their own files was announced in an open letter to the scouting community this week:
"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. For any episode of abuse, and in any instance where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest apologies and sympathies to victims and their families. One instance of abuse is one too many."
The letter comes two weeks after an investigation by Los Angeles Times revealed past leaders may have helped hundreds of suspected child molesters "cover their tracks" by often hiding the allegations from parents, the public and police. For its story, the newspaper obtained and reviewed 1,600 ineligible volunteer files from 1970 to 1991.
The Scouts' planned review for law enforcement will examine about 5,000 cases dating from the 1950s to the present, the Los Angeles Times reported. Many of those same records will be made public in the coming weeks, after an Oregon court ruled the files must be released because they were introduced as evidence in a 2010 sex abuse trial.
Kelly Clark, a lawyer involved in the Oregon case, called the Scouts' new effort to review the files "a lot too little and a lot too late."
The Scouts also hired a University of Virginia psychiatrist to conduct an independent review of some of the files from the Oregon civil trial. They recently posted a summary of her findings on a BSA website and shared key points in this week's letter to members.
"The review and analysis indicate that while it was not perfect and mistakes clearly occurred, the BSA's IV file system has functioned well in keeping many unfit adults out of Scouting.
"The files document a good-faith effort by men and women associated with Scouting to identify and keep out unfit adult volunteers."
But the Los Angeles Times reported that some experts, attorneys and advocates took issue with some of the psychiatrist's conclusions.
"Personally I have represented more than a hundred men abused by Scout leaders whose names were never entered in the ... files—even after BSA paid out substantial settlements on account of these abusers," Timothy Kosnoff, a Seattle plaintiff's attorney, told the Los Angeles Times. "The files are only the tip of the iceberg. Most perpetrators never get caught."
The researcher said she stood by her findings, the newspaper said.