For nearly a century, the Boy Scouts of America has been keeping a list of thousands of leaders who were suspected of preying on young boys and were kicked out of scouting, but it will not release their names, officials said Wednesday.
A day after a lawyer identified 50 former scout leaders from New Jersey and 130 from New York whose names appear on the “perversion files” maintained by the scouts, the organization held a news conference to rebut what it described as “mischaracterizations.”
The scouts have developed a safety and protection system that includes its “Ineligible Volunteers Files” list, which has kept leaders removed because of suspected child abuse from returning to scouting, said chief scout executive Michael Surbaugh.
“It’s an ongoing tool to keep children safe from potential predators,” Surbaugh said in a conference call with reporters. “We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to abuse innocent children.”
He was joined by Janet Warren, a child sexual abuse expert hired by the scouts to review how the organization handled cases between 1944 and 2016. Her research found that there were 7,819 cases during that time and 12,254 possible victims.
Warren, a professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia, said she has spent the last five years reviewing the files along with a team of about 30 researchers. She revealed the abuse figures during testimony in an unrelated child sex abuse case in Minnesota.
The scouts turned over full and unredacted files for review, Warren said. The data “demonstrated that the scouting program is safe” and every case of suspected child abuse over the past 50 years was reported to law enforcement, she said.
“There was no evidence of cover-up by the Boy Scouts of America,” Warren said.
The scouts have been using the “Ineligible Volunteers” list since the 1920s, Warren said. Abuse reported in scouting is “far less” than in society as a whole, she said, but she provided no figures. Surbaugh said there were five known sexual abuse victims in scouting in 2018.
Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who represents sexual abuse victims, contends that the scouts have not disclosed the scope of the allegations beyond those on the list and that there are more cases than have been made public. On Wednesday, he again called on the Boy Scouts to release all of the names in its files.
“The reality is, they have to identify the names of thousands of offenders from their secret files,” Anderson said in a statement. "The Boy Scouts need to come clean and inform the communities who these people are, what they did, and where they are today. This is a time for action and truth, not a time for excuses, promises or policies.”
Anderson said his law firm used publicly available documents, such as lawsuits and legal settlements, to compile the list he released Tuesday. Fourteen former scout leaders from South Jersey were among the 50 people identified in New Jersey. It was unclear whether authorities had investigated or prosecuted any or all of those identified. Because of the lack of details surrounding the cases, The Inquirer is not publishing the names.
Erin Eisner, the scout’s chief strategy officer for culture and people, said the organization could not identify the former scout leaders for privacy reasons and because some may not have been charged or convicted. She said the scouts have a “low threshold” for putting on the list anyone who is suspected of abusing a child but in some cases, those allegations may not be substantiated.
“We err on the side of protecting kids,” said Eisner, a mother of two whose son and daughter are involved in scouting. Based in Irving, Texas, the Boy Scouts enrolls more than 2.2 million youngsters.
The existence of the “perversion files” became public in 2012, when an Oregon judge hearing a Boy Scout sex abuse case ordered the release of 1,247 cases reported from 1965 to 1985 involving nearly every state, including Pennsylvania. Other cases remain confidential.
Eisner said the Boy Scouts would like to partner with other youth organizations to create a national registry of suspected predators, to prevent alleged abusers from moving from one organization to another after they have been removed for improper behavior.