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Explainer: Court documents reveal decades of sexual abuse within the Boy Scouts of America

What just happened?

In a recent court case in Minnesota, an expert witness revealed that, within the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), there might have been as many as 7,819 allegedly sexually abusive troop leaders and volunteers and 12,254 victims over a 72 years period.

Dr. Janet Warren, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia’s medical school, testified that she has been "on private contract" with the BSA for the past five years, evaluating its handling of sexual abuse within the organization. Warren said that she and her team have coded through all of “perversion files” to determine the figures for perpetrators and victims. (Warren produced similar analysis for the BSA in 2011.)

What are the “perversion files”?

Soon after the BSA was formed in 1911, it began keeping internal files on Scout leaders accused of misconduct and abuse. These files were originally called the Red Flag Files, were later renamed the Confidential Files, and finally renamed to the Ineligible Volunteer (IV Files). The IV Files constitute six categories of offenses: Morals (M), Financial (F), Leadership (L), Criminal  (C), Theft  (T), and Perversion (P). According to abuse attorney Paul Mones, the Perversion Files or “P Files” are by far the largest category and contain the names of those adult leaders who have been either accused or convicted in a criminal court of molesting or otherwise sexually abusing Boy Scouts.

In 2012, the Los Angeles Times posted an online database of Scout Leaders expelled between 1947 and Janu­ary 2005 on suspicion of sexual abuse. The data was de­rived from P Files sub­mit­ted as evid­ence in court cases.

What is the period the alleged abuses occurred?

A review of files from 1944 through 2016 was conducted for the current report.

Why is this coming to attention now?

The testimony by Dr. Warren was entered into the court record as part of a trial about child sex abuse at a Minnesota children's theater company. New York attorney Jeff Anderson publicized these numbers at a recent press conference and cited the names of 130 of the alleged abusers who live in New York that could face legal repercussions.

In February, New York State passed the Child Victims Act, which changes the state's strict statute of limitations on sexual crimes against children and opens up a one-year window to revive past claims of any age.

Before the new law in New York, mid- and lower-level felony crimes against children had a five-year statute of limitations, with the clock starting when the victim turned 18. Now, the statute of limitations is based on age, not length of time since the allegations. A one time only “look-back period” will also allow all victims to seek civil action, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred. That period begins on August 14.

How many adults and youth participate in the BSA?

According to their 2017 Annual Report, the BSA has 1,245,882 boys in Cub Scouts (ages 6 to 10); 834,142 boys in Boy Scouts and Varsity Scouts (ages 11 to 17); 87,827 males and females in Venturing and Sea Scouts (ages 14 to 20); 376,837 boys and girls in Learning for Life character education programs, and 114,751 young men and women in their Explorers programs.

The organization also has 889,000 registered adult leaders for 99,814 units.

How has the BSA responded?

After the court documents were released, the BSA issued a statement expressing sympathy for the victims and noting the work the organization has done to protect children:

“We care deeply about all victims of child abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting. We believe victims, we support them, and we have paid for unlimited counseling by a provider of their choice. Nothing is more important than the safety and protection of children in Scouting and we are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to abuse innocent children.

Throughout our history, we have enacted strong youth protection policies to prevent future abuse, including mandatory youth protection trainings and a formal leader-selection process that includes criminal background checks. Since the 1920s, we have maintained a Volunteer Screening Database to prevent individuals accused of abuse or inappropriate conduct from joining or re-entering our programs, a practice recommended in 2007 by the Centers for Disease Control for all youth-serving organizations.

At no time have we ever knowingly allowed a perpetrator to work with youth, and we mandate that all leaders, volunteers and staff members nationwide immediately report any abuse allegation to law enforcement."

The BSA also said that all allegations of sexual abuse have been reported to law enforcement.

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