The Boy Scouts’ Secret “Perversion Files”—Background and Update

There have been recently several media stories about the Boy Scouts of America’s secret files on child sexual abuse within Scouting, as cases around the country, including those being handled by me and my firm, wind their way through litigation towards trial.  This blog post will discuss those developments, all of which have arisen in the wake of the 2010 trial of Kerry Lewis v Boy Scouts in Portland, in which I was lead trial counsel and in which the so-called “Perversion Files” played such a central role, resulting in a jury verdict of $1.4 million in general damages and $18.5 million in punitive damages.  Click here for background articles about that trial and the role of the secret files in that trial.  Click here for prior articles and blogs I have written about the files.

First, some background.  As we proved in Portland in 2010—through the introduction of over 20,000 pages of these files, representing approximately 1200 child molesters just from 1965-85—the Boy Scouts of America has long kept confidential records of child molesters and pedophiles within its ranks. Testimony in the Lewis trial was that BSA started keeping these files as early as the 1920’s and has kept them ever since.  Ostensibly begun as a way to make sure that accused molesters were kept out of Scouting, it was plain from the evidence in the case that, certainly by the 1960’s and 70’s, BSA was taking active steps to keep even the existence of the files secret from the public.  The fact that BSA national was keeping a list of pedophiles was something that not even many lifetime Scouts and some professional Scouters—heads of the local Boy Scout Councils—knew about.  The files themselves were, and are, kept in segregated and locked filing systems at BSA headquarters.  BSA never has voluntarily released the files, and has always fought tooth and nail to keep them from law enforcement, as well as from abuse victims, their parents and lawyers.

Moreover, as was also made clear in the Portland trial, what can be learned from the files is sobering and underscores just how serious the child abuse problem in Scouting historically was.  Just from 1965-1985, BSA listed 1,200 suspected child abusers, and even conservative estimates were that this number suggests that as many as 6,000-24,000 children may have been abused during that time, assuming that most molesters have between 5-20 victims.  And these are just the names of men who were reported into the files, which could be as low as 5% of all abusers in Scouting. So the numbers could be many times the 6,000-24,000 estimates.  And while it is unclear just how far back these numbers can be trended, since BSA has admitted that significant numbers of Perversion Files from earlier decades have been destroyed over the years, it is also plain that, since at least the end of World War II in 1945, the scale and scope of the abuse problem within Scouting was likely similar to what we saw from 1965-85.  If all that is accurate, then it means in the four decades from 1945-85, tens of thousands, perhaps more than 100,000, boys were abused by Scoutmasters, Assistant Scoutmasters, or other adult volunteers.  No wonder BSA was so focused on keeping the secrets of these files out of the public and Congressional eye.

So it was that in 2010, when Circuit Judge John Wittmayer in Portland ordered BSA to produce all Perversion Files from 1965-85 as part of the Kerry Lewis case, a landmark ruling had been made.  This was clear by BSA’s reaction—first, filing a frantic appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court to quash Judge Wittmayer’s order, and when that failed, dragging its heels in actually turning over the records, even under court order, until just a few weeks before the Lewis trial started.  And even now, two years after the verdict, BSA continues to fight another appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, in which various media organizations, including the New York Times, the AP, the Oregonian, and Oregon Public Broadcasting, are battling for the public release of the files. In this most recent appeal the issue is whether the secret files, having now been received into evidence in open court in a state with a strong public records law, are in fact public documents, or whether BSA has some right to continue to keep them secret.  

So BSA continues to do what it has always done concerning these confidential files, which is to resist their release into the public eye. And so, whether the story is about a Canadian Scouts molester, or one at issue in a case in Santa Barbara, or the number of molesters in the San Diego area, BSA continues to fight public disclosure.  Along with attorney Paul Mones, my firm is litigating thirty or more cases around the country in two dozen states, and in virtually all of these, BSA has taken the remarkable position that the Perversion Files are not relevant to the question of what the BSA knew about abuse in its midst, when they knew it, and what they did and did not do about it. And while there is no clear trend yet in terms of what these various trial judges will do in response to these arguments, those of us who are fighting for justice for victims of abuse will continue to press the issue. 

Of all the many truths about child sexual abuse—it is a crime that often leaves its victims emotionally damaged for life, the child victims are not to blame for what happened, often it takes decades of time before these survivors can speak up about what happened to them as children—one of the most certain is that child abuse thrives in secrecy, and secret systems are its nourishment. Given that reality, the BSA’s insistence on trying to keep its secret files secret still is a continuing disappointment, and suggests that, even now, even after hundreds of criminal and civil cases arising out of abuse in Scouting, even after a Portland jury showed its anger with a verdict of nearly $20 million in the Kerry Lewis trial—even after all that—BSA is still trying to put the interests of its organization ahead of the public interest, and ahead of the interests of child abuse survivors.



Kelly Clark

Author: Kelly Clark

Kelly Clark is a trial and appellate lawyer representing individuals, families and businesses against large or powerful institutions, public and private. He is recognized for his courtroom skills, for his knowledge of public and constitutional law, and for his tenacious and creative litigation strategies.
9 Comments for this Post
  • Richard Thornton
    October 19, 2012 at 9:08 am

    I cannot believe that this is the first time I have ever heard about these files. This should have been front page news the moment (2010?) they were discovered.

  • Chris
    October 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Can you let the public know what your percentage of the punitive damages was following the Kerry Lewis trial?

  • Jim
    October 19, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    As a victim of sexual abuse from a Scout leader that is not listed and in the 1980’s had at least 3 victims. This story can not die. I owe it to the children of today not to be me, 40 and still haunted from a sick past. Over and over in the article the name “Boy Scouts of America” was protected from controversy and shame. But for over 100 years the victims are too large for a number. Please continue this story, and protect our youth and never let this happen any more. The victimization has to end. This story must grow and the truth be told. My old Troop 47 in Rahway, NJ 07065 is disbanded and its evil past lost. But the victims lives on. I’m a retired 21 year long career military man. And I will make it my new mission to save the future of these children not the name “Boy Scouts of America”.
    I will make it my life mission to keep this in the light till people are held accountable and new checks and balances are implemented. As for now none of my children will never be a Scout.

  • Steve
    October 20, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I was a victim of abuse by my Scout master in Leland Mississippi in 1960. My best friend also was abused. This person had a position as the county entomologist, so it was so easy for him to tell our parents that we were going to collect bugs and wouldn’t be back until tomorrow. What should have been a fun and educational event turned into a shameful and hurtful secret. The people are animals.

    I agree with Jim above. Now is the time to shine the bright light on this despicable crime. Our children need the tools and the sexual education to call a spade a spade—and get help NOW.

    Scouting is a time of discovery and learning. It helps builds self reliant men from mere boys.

    If these files are available, they should come out now. It’s time now to be rid of the pedophiles among us and send them to jail!!! God bless this legal team.

  • Joe
    October 20, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    I have been active in Boy Scouting for over 60 years and have been aware of numerous alleged sexual incidents between men and boys. I was saddened to see the names of many I knew in this list; I was more distressed not to see the names of many whom I know to have been preditors not on the list. I carefully examined the files of 100 cases selected at random, expecting to see no action taken by the Boy Scouts.I was surprised to see that the majority of the incidents I examined did have public visibility – either in military or local court systems. Not surprisingly, many cases were dismissed when the victims would testify.
    When the incident was brought to the National Organization’s attention, clearly action was taken to remove the adult from scouting.
    It appears the Boy Scouts failed to notify local law enforcement when allegations arose. I don’t know if such notification was required atthe time of the offense. That was a very expensive decision by today’s standards- and a very profitable decision for the law firm exposing that fact.
    Pedators exist with the Boy Scouts, just as they do in all youth organization-and some college footbll teams.
    Pedophiles should be punished to the full extent of the law but no one should profit from the sensationalism of exposure.

    • Antony Bordoli
      October 27, 2012 at 7:15 am

      @Joe: “Pedophiles should be punished to the full extent of the law but no one should profit from the sensationalism of exposure.”

      I couldn’t agree more. My goal with goal public is simply to give courage to others to come forward irregardless of the kind or source of abuse.

      I am prepared to be hushed and/or offered a settlement but that just furthers the problem. I need to find a way to help get these perverts shut down and with the hope of a more recent victim coming forward, put where they belong…..behind bars and/or on the sex offender registry.

    • joe
      March 16, 2015 at 7:22 am

      There is a LEGAL obligation for all youth organizations to report felonies just as it is for citizens. It is called obstruction of Justice and is also a Felony! The same goes for all Federal crimes committed and if shown there is intent to continue it thus becomes a RICHO.

  • Antony Bordoli
    October 23, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    It seems to me that the laws around this country protect pedophiles and prevent justice for their victims. “Statutes of Limitation” are such that victims are still in paralyzed denial during such time. Us survivors that finally pull out of it after decades are left with no justice. To add insult to injury, these pedophiles continue to operate as usual. This country doesn’t care about the mounting pile of victims that continues to grow and grow.

    “Thank-you sir for calling us but we are unable to begin an investigation. I’m sorry that you weren’t able to snap out of your paralysis within the statutes of limitation time period. We have documented that you called in. Have a nice day!”

  • Pingback: Boy Scouts of America Sex: Perversion files « Mutually Assured Pleasure

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