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How Many Boy Scouts were Abused?

March 23, 2019

The Boy Scouts of America is considering chapter 11 bankruptcy as it faces roughly 250 lawsuits for alleged child sex abuse. The BSA’s insurance carriers are refusing to settle these claims.

Bankruptcy is unavoidable and that is probably a good thing.

Bankruptcy will allow the victims to come forward, confidentially, and be counted. Healing can begin with an accounting of what happened and judicial recognition of the terrible harms that were inflicted upon them.

Most importantly, a bankruptcy filing will encourage victims to come forward and identify their abusers.

Identifying those who victimized them would be a courageous act of civic responsibility that can protect society from their abusers, most of whom remain hidden..

Has the BSA done anything to determine how many children were abused in its programs?

The bankruptcy process will probably show that there are many more victims of abuse in scouting than are represented by the 250 cases now pending.

It may well dwarf what we’ve seen in the Catholic Church cases. Between 1910 and 2012, the BSA quietly removed an estimated 60,000 child molesters from its ranks – and it documented each one in what has come to be known as “the perversion files.”

The New York Times reported in 1935 that the BSA revealed that it had opened almost 3000 files on child molesters who had infiltrated its ranks between 1910 and 1935.

BSA officials testified that in the 1970’s the organization destroyed most of these files in a three-yearlong document shred. But it retained 6700 of them, most of which were published online by the Los Angeles Times in 2012.

Unfortunately the BSA kept no destruction logs so we have no way of knowing how many it destroyed. But the rate it created them was constant– BSA opened on average a new perversion file every other day for a hundred years.

Was the creation of a secret file system, known to very few, actually child protection?

Why didn’t former BSA top officials like former United States Secretary of State and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson or former CIA Director Robert Gates do anything years ago? Did either of them ever look at these files? What if, instead of being violent sexual predators, these 60,000 abusers had been jihadi terrorists infiltrating America? Would powerful men like these have turned a blind eye to them?

The BSA’s boilerplate press releases seem to say that if its programs resulted in scouts being sexually abused, they represented acceptable losses.

FBI research shows that on average a child molester has over a hundred victims over a life time of offending. If you read some of the 17,947 horrifying pages of the surviving 6700 files, the immensity the problem lands like a sledgehammer.

And these files are just the tip of the iceberg as they only account for sexual predators who were identified and removed.

How many were never detected?

Or if caught, how many were simply turned out of the organization instead of reported to the police?

How many of the predators the BSA failed to report, joined other youth organizations and continued abusing children?

We don’t know because BSA officials have never been transparent about the problem.

As widely reported, the files demonstrate that with rare exception, the BSA failed to report these cases to the police or civil authorities. In so doing, BSA officials unleashed monsters on other youth-serving organizations and enabled some to enter back into scouting in other locations, re-registering under altered identities.

It’s almost certain that the surviving perversion files represent a tiny fraction of the abusers who were able to prey on children in scouting.

One hundred years of secrecy prevented community members from learning about these predators’ histories, putting countless children at risk.

But it gets worse…

Five percent of the abusers removed from the organization were not adult volunteers – they were professional scouters who worked at the BSA – the BSA was literally “putting the wolves in charge of guarding the hen house.” Was it surprising to learn that the head of the BSA program for safeguarding scouts from sexual abuse was himself convicted of trafficking in child porn in 2005? The “perversion files” are a veritable treasure trove of criminological information revealing the methods and patterns molesters used to infiltrate the BSA and organizations like it.

To BSA national leadership, these were dirty little secrets that needed to be hidden away under lock and key, to be kept hush-hush in order to safeguard the BSA brand. The many good points of scouting are are overshadowed by the revelations from countless former scouts who have been burdened with incomprehensible lifelong trauma. The BSA estimates that more than 110 million children participated in scouting programs since its inception. Today, the organization claims 5 million members.

Some say scouting has been made safe but the “Scout Safety Program” it touts is too little, too late. Its purpose is public relations – not genuine child protection. It is a genuine question whether scouting as it is presently constituted could ever be made reasonably safe.

The organization’s moral bankruptcy seems to have put it on the path to actual bankruptcy.

But should BSA be allowed to reorganize in bankruptcy and given a “fresh start”? Can an organization that puts children out in the woods, overnight in tents with men whose backgrounds are barely known, ever be made reasonably safe?

Or should Congress revoke BSA’s charter and let the organization be liquidated? If you are concerned about protecting future generations of children, these are questions you should be asking your representatives. The BSA and its legions of high-paid lawyers are undoubtedly hoping that bankruptcy will not produce a flood of additional cases and that only a small fraction of scout victims will come forward. But that would be unfortunate because it would allow the predators to remain hidden.

Let us hope that these courageous scout abuse survivors come forward and say “me, too” – even if it shocks and sickens a nation that for a century placed its trust in “America’s Most Trusted Institution.”

Without the scout survivors stepping forward, we will never know.

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