By Jason Felch, Kim Christensen and Kevin Rector, Tribune Newspapers
8:39 PM EDT, October 18, 2012
The veil was lifted Thursday on decades of confidential sexual-abuse allegations in the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America with the court-ordered release of more than 1,200 of the organization's "perversion files."
The files offer the public an unprecedented look at how suspected molestations were handled by one of the nation's leading youth organizations from the early 1960s through 1985, a time when awareness of sexual abuse was evolving rapidly. The files are from all over the country, including Baltimore and across Maryland.
"The secrets are out," said Kelly Clark, one of the plaintiff's lawyers in an Oregon lawsuit that resulted in a nearly $20 million judgment against the Scouts in 2010. "Child abuse thrives in secrecy, and secret systems are where it breeds. And these secrets are out."
Clark's office made the files public — minus the names of victims and others who reported suspected abuse — after the Oregon Supreme Court ordered their release in June at the request of news organizations, including the Oregonian newspaper of Portland, Oregon Public Broadcasting, The New York Times and the Associated Press.
The Los Angeles Times, which like The Baltimore Sun is owned by Tribune Co., has incorporated the files into its own online database, which contains information on nearly 5,000 such cases from 1947 to January 2005. The database offers a complete record of files during that period except for an unknown number of files that have been purged by the Scouts over the years. In about 90 cases, the allegations involve someone with ties to a troop or unit in Maryland.
The earliest Maryland case listed in the database occurred in 1959, in District Heights. The most recent occurred in 2004, in Clear Spring. A handful of Maryland cases in the database appear to be duplicated.
There are 16 cases listed in Baltimore between 1960 and 2003, the most for any Maryland location, though it is not clear whether all occurred within city limits. There are many cases listed in the surrounding suburbs.
For the Maryland cases, the database lists only the year the Boy Scouts created its file, the location and the troop or unit number. It includes more information for cases in other states, including the names of those accused of abuse.
Ethan Draddy, Scout Executive and CEO of the Boy Scouts of America's Baltimore Area Council, directed all questions regarding the database to the national organization's public relations team.
In a statement Thursday, the Boy Scouts' national president, Wayne Perry, underscored the organization's enhanced child-protection efforts in recent years, including beefed-up background checks and training of leaders, and mandatory reporting of all suspected abuse.
He also acknowledged that incidents of abuse have occurred, some mishandled by the Scouts.
"There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate or wrong," Perry said. "Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families."
In recent months, the Times has published an investigation of those files and thousands of case summaries from 1940 to 2005. The files and summaries were obtained from Seattle attorney Timothy Kosnoff, who has sued the Scouts on behalf of dozens of abuse victims.
The Times' investigation has revealed a broad range of patterns in the Scouts' handling of abuse allegations that echo similar revelations about the Roman Catholic Church and, more recently, the Penn State scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
On Wednesday, the Times reported that the files revealed a clear pattern of grooming behavior, in which men seduced their young victims.
In September, the Times reported that the Boy Scouts of America failed to report hundreds of alleged child molesters to police and often hid the allegations from parents and the public.
Scouting officials frequently urged admitted offenders to quietly resign and helped many cover their tracks, allowing the molesters to cite bogus reasons for their departure.
In 80 percent of the 500 cases in which the Scouts were the first to learn about abuse, there is no record of Scouting officials reporting the allegations to police. In more than 100 of the cases, officials actively sought to conceal the alleged abuse or allowed the suspects to hide it, the Times found.
Nine days after the Times' September report, the Boy Scouts announced it would conduct a comprehensive review of some 5,000 files going back to the 1940s and would report to law enforcement any cases it had not previously disclosed.
In August, the Times reported that the blacklist, for years the primary line of defense against child molesters, was repeatedly breached. In more than 125 cases, men allegedly continued to molest Scouts after the organization was first presented with detailed allegations of abusive behavior.
Predators slipped back into the program by falsifying personal information or skirting the registration process. Others were able to jump from troop to troop around the country thanks to clerical errors, computer glitches or the Scouts' failure to check the blacklist.
In some cases, officials documented abuse but allowed the abuser to continue working with boys while on "probation." In at least 50 cases, the Boy Scouts expelled suspected abusers, only to discover later that they had re-entered the program and were accused of molesting again.
In the larger Baltimore region, cases were identified in Aberdeen, Bel Air, Cockeysville, Columbia, Essex, Glen Burnie, Lansdowne, Linthicum, Perry Hall, Perryville, Odenton, Riverdale, Waldorf and Westminster.
There is also a large cluster of cases in and around Washington.
Leaders of some local troops listed said efforts have expanded in recent years to make sure abuses are not repeated.
One of the most recent Maryland incidents listed in the database involved Boy Scout Troop 741 in St. Michaels in 2003.
Troop Leader Bill Roth, who started with the Talbot County troop after the alleged abuse occurred, said it involved a teenage Scout and a younger Scout.
The perpetrator of the alleged abuse was "one of the Boy Scouts themselves, not a leader," Roth said.
Roth said he does not know many of the details of the case. He knows the name of the alleged perpetrator, who was 16 or 17 at the time of the abuse, he said, but declined to give it to a reporter. He said he did not know whether the incident was reported to the police.
Like other troops, Troop 741 follows association guidelines for preventing abuse from happening, Roth said.
"All leaders that are involved with the boys have to have youth protection training, they have to fill out an application and go through background checks, and no one adult can be with one Scout alone at a time," Roth said. "It's called two-deep leadership."
That policy banning one-on-one contact was implemented in 1991, according to the Boy Scouts of America.
The policy requiring criminal background checks on professionals and staff of the organization who work with youth was established in 1994. Third-party, computerized background checks for all volunteers began in 2003.
Isolated activity between two Scouts is also generally prevented, especially between Scouts of different ages, Roth said.
Still, abuse remains a concern — just as it was years ago when he helped coach his son in youth sports, Roth said.
"It's a concern in everything you do nowadays, and I'm sure they didn't handle it properly back then," he said of abuse cases linked to the Boy Scouts from decades ago. "It's a shame it goes on. I don't know the answer."
In another recent case, involving Boy Scout Troop 447 in Linthicum in 2001, assistant Scoutmaster Matthew B. Showalter, then 24, was arrested after the mother of a Scout called the Department of Social Services and said her son told her he'd been inappropriately touched at a meeting.
According to a Baltimore Sun article from the time, the victim told police that on multiple occasions he'd been told to leave the area where the Scouts were meeting and go to an area away from everyone else, where had had to undress and was touched or spanked before he could return.
Showalter, of Glen Burnie, was charged with child abuse, sex offenses and assault. He was eventually found guilty on a single count of child abuse and sentenced to serve 11/2 years of a 10-year prison term, plus five years of supervised probation, according to court records.
John Murawski, the troop's current leader, said that like the St. Michaels troop, his troop operates under the "two-deep leadership" policy, never allowing a single adult to be alone with a single Scout.
Murawski, who said he has been the troop leader for the past three years, said he had heard about the previous abuse but didn't ask for details.
"I knew something had happened in 2001, or at least in the previous years, but what had happened, I didn't ask," he said. "As long as we're not having any issues now — that's my worry, to be honest with you."
Jason Felch and Kim Christensen are reporters for the Los Angeles Times. Kevin Rector is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun.
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