In August 1981, the father of three Boy Scouts in western Colorado wrote in deep despair to Scouting supervisors: A familiar local Scout...
PORTLAND — In August 1981, the father of three Boy Scouts in western Colorado wrote in deep despair to Scouting supervisors: A familiar local Scout leader, referred to only as Joe, had sexually abused boys in his troop, including the writer’s sons, and yet was still being allowed to have contact with boys.
Joe had been spotted at a big Scout gathering called a Jamboree, the letter said, wearing a leather name tag like all other scoutmasters. “Your assurances that Joe was out of Scouting and would have no further contact with scouting have just become meaningless,” he wrote. “Do you care about my distress over watching Joe insidiously get back?”
Regrets and recriminations about how the Boy Scouts of America have policed the ranks of its Scoutmasters and other volunteers to guard against sexual predators — and how they have often failed — echo through the thousands of pages of internal documents, police files and newspaper clippings released here Thursday after a lengthy court battle.
The files were put together over a 20-year period in states across the nation on 1,247 men who were accused of abuse between 1965 and 1985, often with multiple victims. The release of the documents creates, for the first time, a public database on specific abuse accusations.
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But in a sometimes jarring juxtaposition, the language of a guarded, institutional caution bleeds through too, from Scout leaders who seemed to be protecting the organization, or were suffused with the belief — others might call it naiveté — that a man who had admitted wrongdoing with young boys should be given a second chance.
“He recognizes that he has had a problem, and he is personally taking steps to resolve this situation,” a Scout executive wrote in a memo in August 1972 about a leader who, a week earlier, had admitted “acts of perversion with several troop members.”
“I would like to let this case drop,” the executive continued. “My personal opinion in this particular case is, ‘If it don’t stink, don’t stir it. “
Identifying a sexual offender in advance, before any damage is done, has never been easy. There is no set profile for serial molesters except for their willingness to use positions of trust and power to manipulate their victims, said a professor of psychiatry who examined the internal files in a report last month for the Boy Scouts of America.
But human nature — in a mostly volunteer institution that millions of Americans have revered for generations because of its values of setting goals, building character and promoting the outdoor life — also led again and again to tragic results, senior Scout officials now say.
“We definitely fell short — for that we just have to apologize to the victims and the parents and say that we’re profoundly sorry,” said Wayne Perry, president of the Boy Scouts of America. “We are sorry for any kid who suffered.”
The “perversion files,” or “ineligible volunteer files,” as they were also called, played a central role in a civil case in 2010 over the abuse of six boys by a Scout leader in Portland in the 1980s.
The judge ruled that because they were evidence, the files should be released to the public under the open-records provision of the Oregon Constitution — a decision upheld this year by the state Supreme Court. More than 1,200 files were posted online Thursday and are available for public search.
They do not suggest that Scouting was riddled with sexual stalkers. Some internal memos discuss the struggles to be fair when proof was hard to come by or the accusers would not tell the authorities or press charges.
Other sections seemed to describe psychological horrors, like the Scoutmaster who, according to a 10-year-old boy’s account given to the police, talked about the virtues of the Scouting life even as he slid his hand down the boy’s pants.
And sometimes there were failures in the system, such as it was, that was intended to protect Scouts from abuse.
One such case involved a man named Floyd David Slusher. In 1972, the files say, Slusher — then an assistant Scoutmaster in Troop 48 in Boulder, Colo. — was fired from his job at a summer camp after a pattern of “overt homosexual activity” with underage boys was uncovered. Slusher’s name was duly added to the “ineligible volunteers” file, although no criminal charges appear to have been filed.
Five years later, still in the Scouts but now in a different troop, Slusher was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault of a child. A Boulder County Sheriff’s Department report, sent to Scout headquarters, quoted boys who said Slusher had threatened to kill them if they revealed what he did with them — telling one Scout he would poison his food.
Some people whose words flicker through the files saw hypocrisy in the Boy Scouts’ actions; others saw only confusion and missed communications.
An internal memo in 1977 regarding a Scout leader in Santa Monica, Calif., named Mike Ross, recounted a harsh conversation between a Scout field director and a Los Angeles police official identified only as Officer Worth.
A police check after Ross’ arrest on charges that he abused boys in a local troop, according to a document from the Santa Monica Police Department, had turned up nine arrests between 1960 and 1971 for sexual crimes against children, and three outstanding felony warrants from New York in similar cases. Ross had also changed his name, the files said, to conceal his criminal record.
The officer “was very critical of the Boy Scouts of America and this council for permitting individuals like Mike Ross to become Scout leaders,” the memo says. “Worth stated that in view of the fact that we knew about Mike two years ago and did nothing about it left us open to criticism. I told him I was not aware of any such notification.”
Perry said youth-protection training and reporting procedures are stronger now.
The Boy Scouts opposed the release of the files, arguing that opening the confidential documents to the public could impinge on victims’ privacy and have a chilling effect on abuse reports.
“That was a different time,” Perry said. “That was a time when people thought — the medical community thought — there was a potential for rehabilitation.”
But there are passages of remorse in the files too, suggesting an awareness that bad apples often stayed bad. In 1970, for example, a Scout leader wrote to headquarters about an assistant Scoutmaster who had recently been arrested and had signed a confession on “child molester” charges.
The memo’s writer, whose name was redacted, said the arrested man’s name had come up a few years earlier concerning a sexual-abuse case in another troop.
“At the time, a prominent member of my board called me to say he knew the family, that Tom was a fine young man, and asked that he not be placed on our ‘red flag’ list,” the letter said. “Because of no concrete evidence, at the time, we did not do this, for which I have had many hours of regret.”
Sometimes, the files say, information about a Scout leader’s past was simply withheld. One memo in 1982 discussed the case of man who had been confronted with accusations by troop members and parents. He had admitted everything, the memo said and resigned, promising to undergo treatment. No criminal charges were filed.
Yet the parents were not told the man had been on the ineligible list in the early 1970s after previous episodes of abuse. “On the advice of the psychiatrist treating him and his minister, he was allegedly ‘cured.’ His service in the intervening period and his conduct appeared to be exemplary. This history was not shared with the parents,” the memo continued, with the word “not,” underlined.
But even some parents who felt betrayed held true to the institution. The father who in 1981 was so outraged by Joe the Scoutmaster’s continued contact with children was also deeply saddened that one of his sons had become estranged from the Scouts. The father still held out hope that his son could become an Eagle Scout, the highest achievement in Scouting.
“At age 18 it is hard for him to understand that Scouting is not at fault, only misjudgment on the part of individuals,” he wrote.